Inspiring young female leaders

Photo by Analyn Cuarto
Photo by Analyn Cuarto

Women in leadership forum provides words of wisdom

By Jessica Berget, Staff Writer


On March 28, The Douglas College Business Association hosted Women in Leadership, a forum dedicated to inspiring young women in business and leadership roles.

The event took place in the Aboriginal Gathering Centre, featuring a panel of female leaders from varying fields discussing their experiences in business.

The first speaker was Sheila Comer, owner of Pink Ribbon Bakery in New Westminster. Comer shared her experiences as a small business owner wearing many different hats and the many learning curves she faced when opening her own bakery. She also described the importance of removing yourself from toxic situations, analyzing the issues from every angle when faced with obstacles, and the positives of being a control freak in the world of business.

“My biggest designating quality with being a control freak is there is nobody else to put any responsibility on. You need to be completely accountable and recognize that […] you have no other choice but to accept full accountability,” said Comer.

Yet with the good always comes the bad. Comer discussed the negatives of having a controlling personality and taking on a number of responsibilities.

“One thing about having this type of personality is the tendency to become comfortable with either mediocrity or by just getting by. You’re doing so many things at once all the time, and because of this you’re brought to some kind of halt, whether it be with productivity, creativity, progression—all of it.”

Second to present was Gillian Kirk. Kirk wears a number of different hats, being involved in both business and politics. She is the head of marketing at EPR Accountants, the Board of Directors at the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, and on the Board of Ridley Terminals for the Government of Canada—a job given to her by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She explains how she acquired these positions through being sure to say yes to opportunities in leadership.

“I believe when someone asks you to take a position of leadership, you say yes,” said Kirk.

Kirk explained her two roots of leadership: sports and volunteer work. Sports taught her to be aggressive and to be the best she can be, something she says girls are not told when they are growing up, unless they’re involved sports. Kirk emphasizes the importance of volunteer work when working in business, something she says is not only “a phenomenal way to build a network,” but also something great to put your energy into.

“When you volunteer for something, you’re putting your passions and your energy into something that you really believe in, and nothing but good can come from that,” Kirk said.

Kirk described being a woman in a leadership position and the difficult situations she has had to face. With this she gave some advice: don’t be afraid of conflict; don’t focus on the things you don’t know; get support; do your research 100 times over; take opportunities when they come; if they don’t come, make your own opportunities; and finally, be confident.

“I don’t believe in the phrase ‘fake it till you make it,’ I believe what you do is never fake it, you always lean on your strengths, and until you learn the things you need to learn, you should find the support you need.”

The next speaker was Karina Hayat, president and co-founder of Prizm Media Inc. Hayat, who gave a speech about her childhood in Guatemala, the obstacles she has had to overcome, and the lessons she learned. She detailed a story of when she first started her business—inspired by a history of diabetes in her family and designed to help those struggling with affliction—she handed out flyers in class and asked people to visit her website. The website did so well that she could not handle any more business.

“When you make a decision, really go forth with it, because if you don’t, you’re going to be left wondering ‘what if?’” said Hayat.

She also talked about how to empower women in leadership and how vital it is to help women succeed.

“How do we help women get to a stage where we are empowering them? What can we do to help women become leaders? If I were to sum it up in a lesson it would be: give a woman confidence. When you give a woman confidence, you are empowering her to give that same confidence to her children, and you’re helping her empower her community, and the economy,” said Hayat. “I hope that each of you have the courage to stand up when you see a women put herself down because of whatever reason […] that you give that woman the courage and empower her to tell her that she is enough, because that is what it takes. We have to do it together; it has to be a community effort.”

The fourth speaker was Melody Ma, Senior Product Manager and Marketer, and Web Developer at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Ma detailed her involvement in the many activism campaigns she is a part of and the difference she has made in each movement. She is involved in artsScene Vancouver, she fought for the recognition of cultural sustainability as a pillar in BC, she advocates for the teaching of coding in school from kindergarten to high school graduation—which she is directly involved in with the Ministry of Education—and she is passionate about the preservation of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Ma was also involved in the veto of the new Vancouver logo.

She listed four things about activism that everyone should know in order to succeed: passion, persistence, strategy, and fun.

“If you stick with a problem long enough, and you persist, you might come out winning,” Ma said. “It’s not going to guarantee success, but it is going to give you a chance to succeed.”

Mary Vallani was the final presenter in the discussion. Vallani is the Area Manager with TD Canada Trust. She framed her speech around the importance of saying yes and the resiliency of being a woman in business, along with the obstacles that one may have to face.

Vallani spoke about her leadership journey—how she helps people achieve their goals and the fulfillment she gets from it.

“I think we are all born good and that we are all striving to be joyful in our lives […] if we can be resilient and prepare ourselves with resiliency, then we will be successful and we will find that joy,” said Vallani.

Vallani’s presentation also focused on mental health, and how it’s not to be taken for granted.

“We need that self-care to help us through difficult times,” Valani said.

She described how volunteer work has helped her depression, because it gets her out of herself and allows her to help other people, something she finds joy in and recommends to everyone. In her final thoughts, Vallani gave some things for attendees to consider.

“We need more women on boards. What I am seeing is not enough women are putting their hands forward for jobs. When I interview for a position, I don’t have enough women to choose from. I don’t look for if it’s a man or a women, or colour, or LGBTQ+, I want the best person for the job, but what I do notice is that I don’t have enough women to even think about hiring the best person for the job who is also a woman,” said Vallani.

After the presentations was a question period, which elicited an intriguing anecdote from Gillian Kirk, who’d mentioned living with her friend in Asia and how her friend always took the smaller piece of chicken. When Gillian asked her friend why, her friend responded that she didn’t feel like she deserved the big piece of chicken, to which Gillian gave an interesting final thought.

“Ladies, take the big piece of chicken.”