Conference inspires young women to consider careers in male-dominated fields

Women continue to be underrepresented in certain employment sectors, but a recent conference for high school students in Vancouver set about to make a dent in those numbers. 

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The premise behind the SheBiz conference was not just to tell girls they can enter traditionally male-dominated fields like business, science and technology, but introduce them to women who have already done so.

About 230 grade 10 and 11 girls from different public and private schools gathered at Crofton House School to hear a full day's worth of presenters from a variety of sectors on Friday.

Changing attitudes
"When I started I was one of 30 on a desk. One female and 30 males in London and obviously very male oriented back in the 80's," said Kirsten Kennedy, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets Vancouver and a speaker at the event.

Kennedy says attitudes have changed and that at least in the banking sector, the number of women in executive positions is now around 25 per cent.

But she hopes events like this one, organised by the group Women in Capital Markets, will push that number much higher.

"STEM — science, technology, math and engineering — is a growing part of our economy and will be looking forward, dramatically, so we really need to encourage and really need to show them that actually they can be part of that," Kennedy said.

Inspiring stories Grade 11 student Bhag Cheema is looking at her options in either business or science.

"I think the thought process is still that it is easier for men to be in business, or more successful because they are men," she said.

"And for women that it will be harder for them to get there or that they will be less successful than men." 

But she said what she heard at the SheBiz conference gives her confidence it doesn't have to be that way.

"Here we are shown all these companies, these big organisations that are run by women and how big of a role they have in these businesses or that field, and without them that field would be super different," she said.

Her cousin Jasneet Cheema, also in grade 11, said the event has bolstered her belief she could one day take over her father's construction and development business.

"My dad's company is run predominantly by men. That inspires me to go out there and be a part of the company and be part of this amazing thing and I can make a difference because I am a woman," she said. 

"We have different skill sets and I can add to the diversity of the team and make it better."