Feminae Carta: Combining digital activism and research to advance gender equality globally.

Like many people who have had to pivot during the pandemic, activists have had to reimagine the way they advocate for the causes they care about in an online environment. Not only have we had to make the switch to organizing and engaging people in our advocacy efforts online, but have also had to recognize the increased inequalities amid the pandemic. 

Particularly when it comes to women’s issues, gender-based violence, school dropouts, child marriages have been increasing over the past year and a half, with more women at home and lack of access from community allies. 

As we thought about how we can take action, and reimagined possibilities for creating the needed policy changes globally to ensure that gender equality is achieved, we came up with the idea for Feminae Carta. Feminae Carta is the world’s first Digital Advocacy tool of its kind, which aims to make gender equality a policy priority in countries globally. We have more than 20 researchers from all six continents who have been working with us over the past few months to develop our initial background guide, which presents research on the current status of women’s well-being, voices and participation in society. 

In this article, we hope to share the thoughts of some researchers and their findings, to give you a sneak peek into our work. 

 

Yasmine Nassereddin, Canadian and Palestinian Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Oceania and South Asia

Education is a powerful tool capable of  breaking down and eradicating poverty; reducing child mortality; supporting economic and professional growth, development, and well-being; and most importantly closing the gap in gender inequality (UNICEF). From an economic viewpoint, investment in education expands business opportunities by strengthening a nation’s human capital. A larger and more educated labour force results in better wages and income for stable living. Investing in girl’s education can lead to an increase of females in future leadership positions and new perspectives to old persisting problems. While slight progress is occurring in gender parity in education, girls continue to face many barriers to schooling in all levels of education. In the same year, it was estimated that for every 100 boys only 86 girls were enrolled in secondary schools (United Nations, 2015). Girls education is necessary for acquiring sustainable and healthy futures for everyone. Giving girls access to equitable education is a vital investment for our world. When girls thrive by learning and developing their own passions in life, the world becomes more peaceful and sustainable as new ideas and perspectives are shared. Multiple studies and research has shown the economic, political, social, and environmental benefits of having educated women and girls. Oceania and MENA countries have definitely progressed in making improvements to their female population’s access to education, however, many structural and societal barriers block girls from achieving education they feel respected, included, and celebrated in.

 

Rosella Cottam, British Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Europe, Middle East and North Africa

Empowerment has a “transformative ability to affect power relations in societies”, and therefore the empowerment of women is an essential component of the development and interests of nations around the world (Moghadam, 2016). In Europe, the current status of women’s empowerment is dependent on the access of women to services and opportunities within their lives. Women’s empowerment in Europe has been shaped by the legacies of colonialism and this affects the structures and rights of women in the world today. In the case of nations in the European Union, there have currently been some successful outcomes related to increased women’s active role in decision-making in the workplace, yet there are still institutional and resource structures related to leadership, healthcare, and services for the poor which hinder empowerment (Sustainable Solutions).  In the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region), women’s empowerment is currently characterised by significant change in fighting the challenges to the lack of power and discrimination of women in society. There have been efforts towards improving empowerment through raising the voices of women in policy making roles, and increasing opportunities to influence laws and debates.  An example of this can be seen in Algeria, where there have been efforts to increase women’s empowerment in national parliaments, and by 2013, this has led to 31.6% of women in parliament. This example shows that efforts have had success, yet progress is still needed to reach greater empowerment.

Change can also be created through increasing public knowledge through innovative processes and research suggestions, which creates opportunities for more inclusive solutions for women.  On the ground, young activists have also needed resources in order to deliver change, and this includes technology, networks, skills, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations to empower women within their communities (UNGEI, 2014).

 

Soukaina Tachfouti, Moroccan Researcher

Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Women in the Workplace in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia

The inclusion of women in professional and technical jobs can contribute to drastic changes across all sectors and industries, it can turbo-charge economic growth in regions that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution—making their participation all the more critical.  While very few women are breaking through the glass ceiling to top managerial posts, entrepreneurship is gaining importance as an alternative avenue for their economic empowerment, however it is still a widely untapped source of economic growth and social progress, and job creation. 

It is extremely critical that women are included in decision-making and hold formal positions so that their voices can be heard and the interests of women, as well as men, are taken into consideration.  Integration into employment is not limited only to the will of individuals but to a set of factors that are often interlinked, preventing women from unleashing their talent and full potential. Women in South Asia and the MENA region continue to face a range of cultural, financial, and legal barriers more than their female counterparts across the globe. The economic and labour market specificities have positioned women in a weak starting point compared to men, leaving them with a lot of catching up. Moreover, many of the barriers that render women economically inactive also haunt working women in their careers and slow down their progression. In other words, what hinders women from entering the workforce in the first place also naturally hinders their growth into business and management leadership positions.  

There are several policy prescriptions which can help create progress for women in the workplace, not only in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, but also all over the world. Some of these include ensuring girls’ get access to education and the tools they need to access work, and also improving the workplace environment by ensuring that women have equal pay.

While there is a lot of work yet to be done, the progress that has been made and the current work for gender equality is incredibly inspiring, and leaves us hopeful for the future. You can stay updated with Feminae Carta by visiting https://www.theworldwithmnr.com/feminaecarta.

Sherri Pierce owns her voice to make a positive impact on others.

Sherri Pierce

by Shelley White

 

Sherri Pierce remembers the first time she understood the positive impact she could have on others, just by being herself.

She was at an awards gala run by Out on Bay Street (now called Start Proud), an organization that facilitates the professional development of LGBTQ2S+ students as they transition from school to career. Sherri was there with her Scotiabank colleagues, and they were being approached by young people attending the event who had questions about opportunities in the financial industry.  

“I remember very distinctly one girl tapping me on the shoulder and asking, ‘Hey, what company are you with?’ I said, ‘I’m with Scotiabank, I work as a manager there.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t think I would show up to an event like this and see myself in someone in the professional world,’” recalls Sherri, Manager, Operational Effectiveness at Scotiabank.

“That really took me by surprise. I thought I was just coming to a nice dinner. But just by showing up, I had affected someone’s life. It was really eye-opening for me,” Sherri says. “It’s not just about me and the people who have come before me. It’s about the people who come after.” 

It wasn’t long ago that Sherri was a student herself. Growing up in Brampton, she initially thought she would pursue a career as a lawyer. But she was also attracted to the financial industry, and upon graduation from the University of Toronto, “I walked around the downtown core, handing out my resume to a bunch of financial institutions,” she says. “Scotiabank welcomed me in. So here I am, eight years later.” 

“I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common.”

In her role, Sherri works in the Business Service Centre where she provides a breadth of services for business banking clients. She says she loves her job because no two days are the same. 

“Because it’s project-based, I’m always working on different things with different departments — commercial banking, regulatory, audit. I also get a lot of exposure at the VP and director level, so it’s definitely the perfect career-building role,” she says. 

Sherri says her experiences as an out gay woman in the financial industry have been positive, especially once she joined Scotiabank’s Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG). 

“I always felt very supported, and I think that support really took off when I joined the ERG, because then I was surrounded by a community of people who were from different walks of life, but we had something in common,” she says. “It’s a safe space. It’s a place where you can go to ask questions of our experienced leaders.”

Now, Sherri has taken on a role of co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Pride ERG, feeling it’s her turn to “carry the baton a little ways further for the next person.” 

She also recently enrolled in a program through Pride at Work Canada, an organization that helps employers build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. THRIVE is a four-month virtual program to develop the next generation of queer and trans managers through virtual learning modules and mentorship.

Through THRIVE, Sherri was paired with Val Walls, Director of Sales Effectiveness at Scotiabank, and Sherri says the conversations they’ve had have been invaluable for her career development. 

“The program has really forced me to think about my future and not just come to work and think about what I had to do that day,” she says. “I’ve seen the growth, I’ve learned so much, and it’s only been four months.” 

“In being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”

Sherri says her own coming out six years ago was “tough,” especially because she had to do it a number of times. 

“It was definitely difficult, building up the courage to come out to my friends from university, the girls that I play basketball with and wondering, how are they going to react? It’s the fear of the unknown,” she says. “Then, coming out to my parents, the fear of disappointing them. And my big brother. It was a stressful and scary time.” 

For the most part, Sherri says coming out “went okay.” She did receive the support that she needed, though it took some people a little longer than others to come around. 

“Now, I’m in a place where I’m unapologetically gay, it’s who I am. I’ll show up with my suit and tie, I’m not trying to fit a mold or wear a skirt or heels, that’s just not me,” she says. “And in being more me, I’ve been able to find a sense of confidence to speak up more, to not be so worried about what other people think.”

Sherri says that the Pride festivities that come around each June always mean a lot to her. Going to Pride for the first time in Toronto’s gay village neighbourhood felt like “the unshackling of myself,” she says. 

“I remember the first time walking down College Street and then turning down Church Street and it was like the air changed. Everyone was having the greatest time just being themselves. It was freedom.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride Toronto 2021 will be a virtual celebration, and Sherri anticipates that the Scotiabank Pride ERG will take part in the Virtual Parade as they did last year. The rest of the day will be enjoyed at home with family, she says.  

“You have a seat at the table for a reason. So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you.” 

Though Pride is a meaningful and celebratory time for the LGBTQ2S+ community, Sherri points out that it’s also important for organizations to take the lead year-round in creating an environment that is safe, inclusive, and where people feel they belong. She says one of the best ways for people to be allies in the workplace is for those with privilege to use their platforms to support their colleagues in the queer and trans community.

“Use your platforms to stand up for them, stand beside them, or stand behind them, to support them in some way,” she says.  

As for LGBTQ2S+ people looking to advance in their careers, Sherri has this advice: own your seat in the room.

“You have a seat at the table for a reason,” she says. “So, use your voice and stand up and speak. Be heard, be seen, be you. 

Sherri says the idea of “owning your voice” is something that she’s learned and developed, especially over the last four months in the THRIVE program. 

“I’ve always been a shy, slightly reserved person, and I’ve been encouraged by my mentor, Val, and my senior leadership to speak up,” she says. “Now, I’m able to lead meetings on my own, and that’s because I’m owning my voice and really speaking up on behalf of what I believe in.”

Sherri says she hopes to take on even more active leadership roles in future, so she can pass along her confidence and her knowledge to the next generation.

“That’s what I have in the back of my mind,” she says. “How am I going to influence who comes next?”

Meet Akosua Bonsu, policy and program analyst, activist, and award-winner.

Akosua Bonsu

At 26 years old, Akosua Bonsu is already well accomplished. A policy and program analyst with the Government of Manitoba, her interest in political economy was sparked when she was selected to represent Canada on an international trade mission to southeast Asia — the only Black person of the 30 people picked. Shocked — but not surprised — by this, her extracurricular activities now revolve around empowering Black youth to reach their true potential.

Akosua’s ambition and leadership have won her several awards, including YMCA-YWCA Young Woman of Distinction, University of Manitoba Emerging Leader, CBC Manitoba Future 40 Under 40, and one of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women for 2020. She remains unstoppable in increasing representation of Black people in political and economic spheres.

 

My first job ever was… Working as a server at a Winnipeg ice cream shop!

I decided to work in the civil service because… I studied global political economy in university and have always been interested in the intersectionality of politics, economics, and health. Working as a policy analyst allows me to take a closer look at how laws and economic decisions affect citizens while exploring their effects on Manitobans’ social determinants of health (access to housing and income distribution, for example).

My proudest accomplishment is… Tough to pick just one! First on the list is being selected to represent Canada on a variety of overseas missions. In 2013, I was selected from hundreds of applicants to represent Canada on an international trade mission to southeast Asia. The goals of the mission were, in part, to strengthen Canada’s relations with the host countries and provide young adults with hands-on experience in international relations and diplomacy. Most recently, I was selected to attend the World Youth Forum in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, which gave me the opportunity to debate issues of global importance, engage with top policymakers, and recommend initiatives to decision-makers and influential figures. A close second is being recognized as one of the top 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women for 2020!

My boldest move to date was… Taking the time to focus on myself, which may seem like a strange thing to consider a ‘bold move’. I have always been quick to put others before myself, but in early 2019 I found myself unemployed, single, and feeling truly unmotivated to pursue personal goals. After hitting rock bottom, something within me clicked: I needed to take charge of my life and ask, ‘what’s stopping me from achieving my goals?’. This simple question began an ongoing quest to intentionally encourage personal development — both in myself and in others. Of course, helping people remains a priority for me, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. I am now learning the violin, obtained my level 1 sailing certification, and have visited four of the seven wonders of the world. We women are stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for! 

I surprise people when I tell them… I love to grow my own food! During the summer, one can find tomatoes, cherries, and cucumbers in my garden.

My best advice to people starting out in their career is… There is an opportunity to learn in every situation. What might first be perceived as a failure or a setback may be teaching you the skills you need to succeed later on.

My biggest setback was… My self-doubt. Throughout my early twenties, I could not bring myself to believe I was capable of achieving my dreams. I saw any form of rejection as validation of my (perceived) low self-worth. My mentality was not one that inspired strength, success, or confidence.

I overcame it by… Changing my mindset. Asking myself ‘what’s stopping me?’ forced me to contemplate the reasons I had fabricated as to why I could not do something. Instead of telling myself, ‘I can’t do that because I’m not smart enough’ or ‘because they would never pick someone like me’, I approached new opportunities thinking, ‘okay, if I truly can’t do this, why not? What can I do to address that?’. It took time, but developing this outlook has given me the confidence to pursue my goals with my best foot forward.

The best thing about being a policy analyst is… Knowing my work makes a difference in the lives of Manitobans.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… Exercise more! I am a busy woman and often have a lot on the go. Though I like to be active, exercising is unfortunately one of the first things that falls off my agenda.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I do not watch much television, but I love game shows. My favourites include The Chase, 1 vs. 100, and Weakest Link.

The one thing I wish I knew when starting my career is… How tough it would be to establish myself. As a young university graduate, I was often competing with seasoned civil servants for job positions. Once I was hired, it took me some time to find my footing — feeling comfortable with asking questions, voicing my opinions, and so on. Being Black and female in this field was also not far from my mind. In short, I didn’t anticipate how difficult the process would be, but it taught me a lot about myself.

I stay inspired by… Leaning into my faith, primarily. I also think about the young people who are coming up behind me, especially young Black women who do not frequently see themselves represented in some of the spheres I’m in.

The future excites me because… As a society, we continue to push the boundaries of innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned almost every aspect of life upside down, yet we have been able to do the once impossible: vaccines were developed over months instead of years, once rigid work arrangements are now more flexible, and we continue to adopt innovative ways of staying connected while staying apart. The COVID-19 situation is an ever-evolving one, but our capacity to affect change remains limitless.

My next step is… To blend my experience in policy development with my love of medicine and health. The emergence of the novel coronavirus and the unprecedented global response have both highlighted the importance of health-informed policies well before any pandemic is declared. By connecting the two disciplines, I hope my work can one day impact Canada’s preparedness for future pandemics.

Five recommendations for including young women in decision making.

Young woman raising her hand.

By Bailey Greenspon and Almeera Khalid, G(irls)20

 

In March 2021, the UN Commission for the Status of Women met for its 65th session. A priority theme for this year’s meeting features “women’s full and effective participation in decision-making in public life”. G(irls)20’s mission is to advance the full participation of young women leaders in decision-making spaces to change the status quo. From boardrooms to policy committees and everything in between, G(irls)20 works with young women globally who are pushing for meaningful inclusion in spaces of power. We are calling on decision-makers to ensure real representation by young women. 

Globally, women make up half the population, yet only 25.2% of parliamentary seats in the world are held by women, with less than 2% held by women under 30.  Only 21% of government ministers are women, with only 14 countries having achieved parity. In the private sector, women are slowly breaking through to senior management roles, but the numbers are still low with 29%. With growing demand by young women to take part in decisions that impact their lives comes the imperative for global leaders in all sectors to open pathways for participation. 

Let’s do the real work to ensure real inclusion of young women in decision-making spaces. Here are five suggestions we can offer companies and institutions to start today. 

 

Recommendation #1: Avoid the Trap of Tokenism.

“I think there is often an overemphasis on the perspective I bring as a ‘young person’ and there is less recognition of the skills from my education and work experience which I could also bring to a board.” – Helen Cashman

Young women want to be heard. There is important talk of diversity, but without meaningful inclusion the result is tokenism: the practice of making only a symbolic effort, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of equality or diversity within a workforce. As institutions embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts without enabling marginalized young women to make real decisions, they may become disengaged or cynical. This is the trap of tokenism; the real opportunity lies in working with young women and then giving them the trust, space, and power to lead.

 

Recommendation #2: Invest in Mentorship and Coaching.

“Mentors have been the most catalyzing forces in my career.” – Larissa Crawford

As young women enter decision-making spaces, they may experience blatant sexism, racism, and harassment. Providing access to visible women role models is one way to help the younger generation navigate barriers and allow them to assert their right to have a seat at the table. Mentorship allows young women to see what is possible and can be a source of inspiration for those with high aspirations and confidence. 

To take it a step further, coaching by mentors enables rapid feedback, joint solution-building, sharing of experiences, and guidance that can accelerate learning and confidence-building for aspiring leaders. Mentorship and coaching are also relationship-builders and can be used to expand the mentees network and increase access to related opportunities for growth and leadership development. By investing in coaches — especially those from shared identities or backgrounds — young women have a network of support to excel into decision-making spaces. 

 

Recommendation #3: Acknowledge the Roots of Imposter Syndrome.

“Women are too often made to feel that we’re challenging some sort of norm when we’re in those (leadership) positions. To start normalizing those types of things, you put women in those positions. You make it normal.” – Mumilaaq Qaqqaq 

Imposter syndrome is understood to be the chronic self-doubt experienced by high-achievers; a belief that one doesn’t deserve the success they have earned. Imposter Syndrome poses as a psychological barrier to young women’s access to and success in decision-making spaces. The experience is especially prominent among young people from backgrounds that have experienced systemic marginalization and oppression, who have been purposely designed out of decision-making spaces. When young women believe they are not qualified or do not deserve their success, they are at risk of checking out or not putting themselves forward for opportunities. 

The first step is to name Imposter Syndrome: help young women recognize the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome and understand the pervasive phenomenon. Connect young women to mental health resources to unpack these beliefs and provide safe spaces for young women to discuss Imposter Syndrome. Most importantly, ensure the phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome is situated in a historical context marked by racism and sexism. 

 

Recommendation #4: Amplify Young Women’s Voices.

“If I have access to space that other womxn don’t, I advocate for their presence and voices in that space. If people ask for recommendations for certain opportunities or roles to be filled, I put forward the names of young womxn.” – Jathusha Mahenthirarajan

In order to bring diverse perspectives into decision-making to change the status quo, it is insufficient to place one young woman in a space of power. Research shows the need for a “critical mass” of young women to encourage innovative ideas and empower diverse perspectives. For example, evidence points to having three or more women on a corporate board in order to change the dynamic. Former female White House staff reference the “amplification” strategy — the repetition of key points by multiple people — to push for the acceptance of different perspectives. 

Further, when only one young woman is elevated to a position of leadership, she is at risk for Tall Poppy Syndrome. This term, coined in Australia, refers to the cutting down of the “tallest poppy” by those in their peer group. By ensuring a “critical mass” of young women in decision-making spaces are in leadership positions, we can begin to end the phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome. When striving for representation, ensure the box is not checked when there is merely one new person in the room.

 

Recommendation #5: Measure Progress.

“If we invite women and marginalized folks into spaces and those spaces aren’t safe for them, we are setting them up for failure.” – Akosua Bonsu

When institutions fail to collect disaggregated data about progress on intersectional gender markers, they contribute to the silencing of underrepresented voices and experiences. This absence of data makes it challenging for institutions to identify gaps and to build a case for organizational and systemic change. Institutions must adopt policies to track the progress made of young women from many diverse backgrounds, identities, and lived experiences. Applying an intersectional lens to evaluation and learning initiatives is critical to achieving equitable outcomes for underrepresented young women leaders.

As civil society organizations and governments meet this year to advance meaningful change for the world’s women, policy-makers must prioritize creating supports for young women to join spaces of power.

Meet Cessidia De Biasio, Founder of The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship

When she was just 19 years old, Cessidia De Biasio established The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship in honour of her Nonna Addolorata, a widow who immigrated to Canada with her five children. Raising over $52,000 to date, the foundation aids first-or second-generation University student leaders while paying homage to our ancestors who immigrated to Canada. Understanding the impact of storytelling, Cessidia launched the #OurJourneytoCanada grassroots social media campaign which showcases Canadian immigration stories. One of Leadership Windsor-Essex’s “40 Leaders Under 40,” Cessidia volunteers with several not-for-profit organizations, and will soon be pursuing her MBA.

My first job ever was at an ice-cream store. I still remember all 51 flavors and never got tired of eating ice-cream! 

My Nonna Addolorata inspired me to establish The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship because… as a widow with five children, one being my mother, Nonna risked everything to migrate with her family from Italy to Canada in order to provide them with a better life. Travelling by ocean liner and landing at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nonna, at 47 years of age, came to Canada with little money, a trunk full of belongings, no knowledge of English, and a grade three education. To say her voyage to Canada was met with many obstacles is an understatement. 

Nonna’s courage, as well as that of my paternal grandparents who also immigrated to Canada, inspired me to build upon their voyages and assist those with similar stories. No matter your family’s country of origin, we all share something in common; we are all here today thanks to our ancestors who paved the way for us. These factors were catalysts in establishing my charity, The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. I created this foundation to pay it forward and support first-and-second generation University student leaders. I also established the charity to honour the perseverance, sacrifice, and vulnerability of youth, immigrants, women, and our ancestors who came to Canada to provide their families with better lives. 

My boldest move to date was… performing The Vagina Monologues, as part of a University course. Prior to this performance, I was terrified of public speaking. This frightening, yet liberating experience, enabled me to become a more confident presenter, feminist, advocate, and empathetic person. Putting myself in the shoes of others aided me in cultivating emotional intelligence and helped me become more vulnerable.

This performance bolstered my confidence when, at the age of 19, I undertook a $40,000 fundraising goal for The Addolorata De Luca Leadership Scholarship. As a young philanthropist, I encountered much rejection while trying to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously. Collaborating effectively, becoming comfortable with presentations, demonstrating adaptability and perseverance, and learning lessons from every obstacle and triumph contributed to successfully raising over $52,000 to date. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I enjoy boxing and listening to rap music. My first concert was to see Lil Wayne. 

My advice for young professionals is… to look at failures as learning opportunities, be vulnerable, and do not take no for an answer! As youth, we are sometimes underestimated because we are viewed as being “too young” or “lacking in experience.” As the next generation of change-makers, our responsibility is to collaborate with others and advocate for our passions. We deserve to have our voices be heard!  

My best advice from a mentor was… to remember that whenever I am feeling uncertain or overwhelmed I need to keep in mind the following mantras: “this too shall pass” and “am I being the best version of me?” 

My biggest setback was… my inner critic. For the longest time I rarely gave myself credit for my accomplishments. I thought that any success I achieved was a result of luck or external forces outside of my control. My inner critic produced a lot of self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, and caused me to fall into negative thinking traps. 

I overcame it by… meditating and practicing mindfulness, being more kind to myself, and being vulnerable by talking about my inner critic. Sometimes I still doubt my abilities; however, placing more emphasis on what I do, rather than what I get from what I do has helped increase my happiness and gratitude. 

My passion for women, youth, and immigrant advocacy began when…I enrolled in Social Work and founded my charity. As a Social Work graduate and former Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) employee, I learned about utilizing empowerment theories, finding my voice, and advocating for vulnerable populations. At WECAS, I supervised court-ordered family visits, navigated hostile relations, oversaw suicidal teens, and collaborated with clients and coworkers of diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. This experience alongside my family’s immigration journey, my community’s multiculturalism, and my belief in the power of an education inspired me to start my foundation and advocate for equity-seeking populations.

Recognizing the impact that storytelling had on my well-being, motivated me to create a safe platform for others to share their stories and take power over their narratives. I established the #OurJourneytoCanada social media campaign to help showcase Canada’s multiculturalism by highlighting immigration stories. Bringing people’s voices and perspectives to the forefront helps humanize their experiences and creates unity among diversity. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… take my dog, Luna, for more walks. Luna is our family’s six-year-old black Labrador who loves squirrels, peanut butter, car rides, and baths. She can lift anyone’s spirits and has gotten me through some tough times. 

I hope to achieve… a career where I can help break down educational and employment barriers for women, immigrants, and youth and increase mental well-being initiatives so vulnerable populations can be assisted holistically. I believe that enhancing a person’s quality of life through their mind, body, and soul, makes our communities stronger.

I stay inspired by…reading the #OurJourneytoCanada stories. This campaign is intended to create a dialogue among those in our community regarding diversity, overcoming obstacles, and how we have more similarities than differences. Learning about a person’s journey, culture, and traditions teaches people valuable lessons and enables empathy and engagement. Our stories help define us. So why not share it in hopes that we can inspire others along their journey in life? 

The future excites me because… of the new adventure I am about to embark on! I will be pursuing my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Queen’s University, Smith School of Business, starting in January 2021. I am excited to go back to school and utilize my Social Work and Business acumen to make a social impact. Every person, obstacle, and achievement I have encountered has been a gift. My journey has profoundly shaped the woman I am today and will continue to influence the woman I want to become in the future.

Meet Harjas Grewal: Founder of UnitedWomxn and 2020 Diana Award Recipient

Harjas Grewal is a 22-year old passionate and innovative leader from Brampton, Canada with a degree in Global Development from Western University and an Urban Humanitarian Emergencies certificate from Harvard University. Her work has revolved on addressing human rights and sustainable development goals with a focus on gender equality, reducing inequalities across the board, and education. Harjas has worked extensively in the United Nations and Youth Assembly ecosystems on gender equality and human rights through meaningful engagement, such as advocacy, community building, and policy work. She is the Founder of UnitedWomxn, a platform aimed to cultivate conversation surrounding sustainable development and highlight leaders’ from all over with an emphasis on the BIPOC community. Furthermore, she is a recipient of the 2020 Diana Award for her social impact work. 

 

My first job was… as a media production assistant and I volunteered doing Seva at Gurudwaras, which propelled my mindset to serve the community. 

My proudest accomplishment is… speaking at the United Nations General Assembly week in New York City about women in leadership at an event key-noted by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus. I am also proud of winning the Diana Award, one of the highest accolades a young person can get for their humanitarian work. 

The idea for UnitedWomxn came to me when… I spoke to a young person who recently left women’s shelter and realized there was a lack of resources and diversity of mentors for youth from disadvantaged communities. Providing inspirational and educational content to create the agency needed for empowerment is what this platform is about. As someone who has been close to a shelter once and has faced difficulties, I know how hard it is to imagine beyond the four walls you are in. I want to create tangible and lasting change. 

My boldest move to date was… accepting who I am and publicly advocating for causes I believe in; an example, running a rally against white supremacy. It took a while for me to own my voice and realize that is the single most powerful thing I have. Sometimes I stayed quiet due to fear of consequences, but I haven’t been scared to call people out for wrong-doings, advocate for change and put myself out there for the past years. I aspire to carry myself with No Fear (Nirbhao) and No Hate (Nirvair) as I learned from Sikhism. 

I surprise people when I tell them… I am a creative and writer. I have helped produce sold-out concerts, acted in theatre, and wrote plays. I am a published playwright (Bloodline), a play about mental health, I co-wrote in high school which won me the Ontario Young Authors Award. Also wrote a short story called Curfew Clocks, which was published in an anthology. People tell me I am a “jack of all trades”. 

My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… to stay resilient and accept rejections. That is the single best advice I have learned from my own experiences. Many doors will close, many rejections will come, but eventually one will open, and it will lead to a world of opportunities and possibilities. It is up to you to hustle, keep your vision consistent, and remain resilient. 

 

“Many doors will close, many rejections will come, but eventually one will open, and it will lead to world of opportunities and possibilities.”

 

My biggest setback was… I grew up with a lack of resources and opportunities. Due to difficulties in my childhood, I eventually faced mental health issues. My anxiety and depression caused a lot of roadblocks. 

I overcame it by… imagining a world where my voice mattered. This pipe dream became a goal and I learned to voice my dreams, talk to as many people as I could, and remain inspired. My immigrant mother’s resilience in the face of a seemingly cold world taught me to always be brave and remain resilient…like her!

My passion for Global Development began when… I learned about Seva or service through Sikhism and volunteered at multiple organizations. I wanted to learn from different humanitarian organizations and when I was 11 years old, I learned about the United Nations General Assembly, and I made it my goal to be there one day (which I succeeded in doing)! As I grew, I eventually learned about the impact and the gaps in these organizations, especially in how Global Development was being taught. Though my time at these organizations, I learned you have to work WITH the communities at stake to see a sustainable difference. Thankfully, I found a program at Huron at Western University that taught Global Development in a critical anti-oppressive and collaborative lens. All of this caused me to become passionate about international affairs, global development and politics – because I believe that you can make a tangible impact in these areas. 

Work/life balance is... a hard feat. For me, I work full time tackling gender, inclusion and equity with Matrix360 and in my free time, I am working on launching UnitedWomxn. I dedicate my waking hours to my passions, however, due to my mental health – I realize unplugging and doing some self-care is SO important! For me, this is ensuring I am doing my robust skincare routine, limiting social media in the evenings, and reading before bed (currently reading Songs of Kabir and Remnants of a Partition by Aanchal Malhotra).

If I had an extra hour in the day… I would write short stories, poems and work on play ideas! I’m always getting random interesting ideas to write about.

If you googled me… you still wouldn’t know I love stargazing and used to read about the cosmos for hours at end. 

Also, I am a big believer in idealizing your own life. An example, embodying yourself as the main character of your own movie and living life with endless passion, belief and hope. 

Another fact, I am a big fan of Korean Dramas. 

I stay inspired by… young leaders from marginalized communities whose time to rise is now. And I stay inspired by the child me. The girl who grew up imagining she was walking the halls of the United Nations, travelling to big cities, and having a voice that mattered on platforms to elevate other young change-makers. 

The future excites me because… there is so much growing, realizing, and learning to do. Youth today are so powerful, from mobilizing communities to running start-ups to actionizing change…they excite and inspire me every day. There are endless opportunities and I cannot wait to see what life has in store. 

My next step is… to launch UnitedWomxn. The rest of the story will follow. 

Maryam and Nivaal interview Julie Carrier

In our first interview for our Perspectives column, we had the opportunity to speak with one of our biggest role models and mentors, Julie Carrier. We have had the pleasure of working with Julie for the past few months now, and she inspires us with her dedication and passion for helping others every day. We’re so excited to share her perspective here with you today.

 

Would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your work?

 Yes! My name is Julie Carrier, and I’m a leading authority, author and global speaker on authentic confidence and leadership and do a lot of work supporting women of all ages on how to be even more bold and show up in bigger ways. I am honoured that I was recently recognized by Leading Global Coaches and Thinkers 50 as the #1 Coach for Young Women in the World.

Amazing! You didn’t always do this work. Would you be able to share a little bit more about your journey to how you decided that this is what you want to do, and perhaps talk a little bit about what you did before this and what your career looked like?

Before I became a speaker and an author, and somebody who uses applied neuroscience to teach interactive leadership education for young women and women, I worked as a senior management consultant in leadership development at the Pentagon where I taught leadership skills to executives. What most people don’t know is that before all of these successes, my life actually started very differently. In high school, I had crippling anxiety and self-doubt and tremendous fear about stepping outside my comfort zone. If I could go from someone who was afraid to raise my hand in class to someone who now has spoken around the world for audiences of 20-70,000, I believe anyone can learn how to be confident and it’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing this message with women and young women.

That’s such great advice for not only young women and men, but for everyone. Would you be able to share some of your tips for how women can maintain their confidence in the workplace, or in their everyday lives?

The number one thing I would like to start with is revealing a toxic myth that we have been conditioned to believe — that confidence is either something that you either have or that you don’t. What research shows, just like my life experience shows, is that confidence — just like you would learn how to ride a bike, or just how you would learn to cook, or just how you would learn to create a Powerpoint — is actually a learned skill. 

You can actually learn how to leverage the power of your brain and use principles of neuroscience to learn how to be confident. While I normally have a 60-minute keynote or a three-day seminar to teach this, in the time we have I can share a highlight. I developed this brain-friendly learning quote which basically summarizes hundreds of pages of research on confidence: “Fear knocked. Courage answered. Then Confidence arrived and Success showed up.” 

Think about that for a moment. Confidence does not just happen. It is developed as part of a process that usually happens in this order. Let’s start with the fear knocking. The reality is that fear knocks any time you are getting ready to do something bold and new, whether it’s asking for that promotion, or applying for that job, or getting ready to share that big post on social media — you are stepping outside your comfort zone. The feeling of fear is actually a normal human physiological reaction to stepping outside your comfort zone. 

Sadly, because so many have never been taught the science of confidence strategies and the confidence formula, here is where many people give up because they think that because they feel fear, it’s a sign that they are not “confident enough” to make it happen. They have been given the wrong equation.

The difference between successful people who take bold action to realize their goals and those who don’t, is that successful people feel the fear and push forward to do it anyway. This is called courage. When you practice courage this is what develops confidence. It’s that confidence which will then allow that new thing you did to start to feel like something that’s second nature to you, and that confidence multiplies your success. While this is important, what I especially love is teaching the authentic confidence formula, science and strategies that actually help so many others translate the knowledge and research into action! 

Amazing! That’s so inspiring. On that note, would you be able to share a little bit more about the science of confidence? Especially the Default Mode Network you talk about? What you have to say about that is so inspiring as well, and we think that our audience would really love to hear about that.

Thank you for asking that question! I’m so glad that you’ve been to so many of my different programs and have heard me speak about this because most people have never heard of the Default Mode Network and I’m so thrilled that you asked about it. The science of confidence actually starts with the science of understanding self-doubt. When we understand the science, we actually become empowered and equipped to work with our brain instead of against it. 

One of the reasons why we feel fear when we step outside our comfort zone is actually because of a very outdated part of our brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). This is a co-activated set of brain regions that has very outdated programming that thinks it’s keeping us safe by keeping us small (and stuck in our comfort zone). If someone is worrying about how they are going to fail at that big project they have not started, ruminating on something that didn’t go well in a presentation or criticizing themselves about how they won’t fit in during an important social event with new people, they can often thank their DMN. 

Just like the heart has the responsibility of pumping blood, and the lungs have the responsibility for breathing oxygen, the DMN has the responsibility of generating this Automatic Negative Chatter. The science of confidence starts with understanding that what we often believe is negative “SELF talk” is actually not you at all. It is actually Automatic Negative Chatter generated from the DMN part of the brain that has very outdated programming. This awareness is actually the foundation of many strategies I teach that help you build confidence and get your power back.

And it’s so amazing to see where you’ve reached now, and the amount of people that you have impacted through your conferences and events you speak at. In working with you, we see how hard you have to work for everything that you do, and it’s incredible to see the impact that you have been able to have. Moving onto the topic of life amid COVID-19, how do you manage to stay positive, and I know that you probably aren’t able to stay positive all the time, but what advice do you have for women during this time, because it is uncertain and things are really changing. How have you changed the way that you are thinking and perhaps developed a routine during times like these?

This is an uncommon answer to your question, but it’s very true and I want to share it. Positivity is actually a math problem. Everything we do in our day is either a plus or a minus as it relates to our energy, time and attention. I call it the Full Can Principle. Have you ever noticed that if you have a full, unopened can of soda or sparkling water and you try to squeeze that can, it’s almost impossible to actually crush it because of how it’s filled up inside? On the other hand, if you take an empty can, it’s super easy to crush. People operate the same way. What influences whether or not you cave under pressure has to do with how much you are filled up inside. So if someone is feeling down, negative, tired, drained and unmotivated, myself included, that often means that “your can is empty.” 

Even if you don’t feel like it, these emotions are a message that you need to take conscious action to fill yourself up. The natural state of a healthy mind is actually positivity, hope and optimism. When we get depleted, overwhelmed, and stressed out our abilities to be and feel positive start to lessen. Especially now, I recommend that each person creates a restoration list and a daily routine that involves taking time to fill yourself up. For example, my list includes working out and running with my dogs, making myself a healthy breakfast, spending time doing prayer and meditation, and making myself a beautiful cup of tea before I start work! These are not luxuries, during times of increased stress, these are necessities! I try not to actually do my work until I have completed those other items on my list. 

It feels counter intuitive, but if I don’t add those positive restore items into my day, over time, I feel more and more empty and depleted and I get cranky, I get worried and negative. Positivity really is a math problem. You have to spend time adding in things that restore and fill yourselves up to counteract all the negative drains on our energy and time, and this equipped us to be and feel more positive and show up to best serve others.

That’s such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. To bring positivity, hope and optimism to youth, it’s been exciting to work together with you to offer Virtual Youth Summits during this time. Could you tell us a bit more about that initiative and how you’re supporting youth during this time?

Absolutely, so here’s what’s interesting — I’m a speaker, and a coach and an author, and most of my work, typically is live at events and speaking for organizations. In this time of cancelled events, it was important to pivot and figure out how to serve differently. Because in this time of distance learning, students have never felt more disconnected. So many things have been cancelled — after-school activities, their in-class activities, their sports and even their summer camps. 

Students are really seeking an opportunity to connect and find meaning and hope in some really challenging situations. In order to help this underserved population, I am so honoured to team up with both of you, and the award-winning, amazing UN Youth Champion and role model from High School Musical, Monique Coleman, to start offering these interactive, immersive summits that are virtually held online so students can join from the convenience and safety of their home. Even though it is a virtual event it is still a live event! 

We’ve had so much positive feedback. In fact, one principal that hosted one of our Virtual Summits for her school had such an incredibly overwhelming positive response of parents emailing and calling and thanking her for the positive impact it had on their teens, that she actually hosted a second one just two weeks later. We are finding that students are almost desperate for this opportunity to think about the future and build hope and optimism for the future. In fact, one of my favourite quotes that one student said was, “This made my whole life!” and she posted it in the chat with tons of tear emojis. 

It’s been so successful that we’re actually filling spots for a global tour right now — that’s the beauty of virtual events, we’re not limited to just one location. So we’re doing a global event tour and we are accepting nominations from different schools and organizations to host their own event. So we actually showcase students from the school or organization right alongside our celebrity role models and we do really cool experiential exercises that bring students together. 

And it’s not only helped the students, but it has really uplifted me too. These kids are very resilient. And shout out to you too! They love you as speakers and I’m thrilled that we’ve created this together, it is awesome!  

Thank you for taking the time to read this article! We hope you were as inspired by Julie’s amazing insights and words as we are. You can find out more about Julie’s work by visiting @juliemariecarrier across social media and @juliecarrier on Twitter, and find out more about our Virtual Youth Summits initiative with her, by visiting virtualyouthsummits.com!

Meet Maryam and Nivaal Rehman, twin activists and journalists

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman became activists when they were just eight years old. The now 18-year-old twins have since worked in their local and global community for causes including girls’ education, climate justice, gender equality and inclusivity. Through their non-profit, The World With MNR, their YouTube channel and social media platform, they are using advocacy, storytelling and development to take action and inspire others to do the same.


We started “The World With MNR” because…
 We wanted to create an organization through which we make a difference, and also inspire others to do the same. We fight for the causes we care about like Gender Equality, Climate Justice and Inclusivity, while also telling the stories of the people we have worked with and inspire others to take action for these causes as well. 

Our proudest accomplishment is… Becoming filmmakers for the Walt Disney Company and the UN Girl Up Campaign #DreamBigPrincess Project. Our film, which featured MP Celina Caesar Chavannes, was seen by millions of girls around the world and the project unlocked a $1 million donation from Disney to Girl Up, supporting its incredible leadership programs for girls worldwide. We are still inspired by all the films created as part of this campaign, our fellow filmmakers, and the impact we were all able to have.

Our boldest move to date was… Finishing high school a semester early to return to Pakistan and film our documentary. Throughout high school, we always wanted to create a film about girls’ education in Pakistan, but did not have a chance to visit Pakistan to film it because of our school commitments. To pursue this dream, we worked with our guidance counsellor and made a plan through which we could complete our required high school credits in advance, and spend our final semester of high school in Pakistan to create our film “Destined To Soar.” 

We surprise people when we tell them…  Our age. Ever since we began to attend conferences, summits and events globally, we have often found that we are the youngest people in the room. As we introduce ourselves or share our story, the one thing that surprises people the most is how old we are.

Our most surprising interview was…  with Madame Christine Lagarde at the G7 Finance and Development Ministers’ Meetings in 2018. We ran into her as we arrived at the event venue in the morning and she stopped her whole delegation to ask us if we were the twins who were going to interview her later that day. When we spoke to her again prior to our interview and told her our story, she would fill in different moments from our lives like when we worked with girls in our village in Pakistan, because she had already learned so much about us before the interview!

Our biggest obstacle was… Finding the balance between our school, extracurriculars, and our activism. We wanted to make sure we were giving all of our energy to our school work, the eight clubs we were the leaders of in high school, and our activism work, which often included travelling worldwide or spending countless hours working while we were still in Canada. It left us with little time for self-care and ourselves, which is what made finding the balance between all of these parts of our lives so difficult.

We overcame it by… developing a strict schedule, and sticking with it. We also had the immense support of our teachers and our parents, who would work with us to help meet the needs of sometimes overlapping commitments and help us organize our time more efficiently, without wearing ourselves out too much.

Our most memorable interview was…  Our interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Malala Yousafzai during Malala’s Girl Power Trip in 2017. It was our first time conducting a Live interview, and we were nervous, but both PM Trudeau and Malala were so kind and down-to-Earth so all our nervousness went away. During that time, we realized how everyone is equally important in this fight for gender equality and everyone can make a difference.

Our best advice from a mentor was…  Self-doubt and “negative self-talk” is part of an outdated program in our brains which thinks it is keeping us safe by keeping us small. So whenever you are doubting yourself, know that it is not you talking, but it is that outdated program in your brain, who you can choose to not listen to. This advice was given to us by Julie Carrier, who is an incredible role model for us, and learning this helped us overcome self-doubt when approaching different dreams of ours. 

Our advice for other young people with causes they care about is…  To start by taking action in their local community, for one cause they care about. The world has so many big problems and it is easy to feel like you can’t do anything to solve them, but by starting somewhere locally, you can make a big difference and open up doors to expand your impact.

The message we would like to tell the whole world is… Your dreams are worth pursuing. If you work hard and stay dedicated, you will find that the universe has a way of helping you realize your dreams. It may take a while, but eventually, you will be rewarded for your hard work with your dreams either coming true exactly how you envisioned them, or in an unexpected, but equally exciting way.

If you googled us, you still wouldn’t know… How to tell the difference between us 🙂

We stay inspired by… Reading books about people who we look up to.

The future excites us because… We like to dream big, and are excited by the idea that someday, those dreams will come true.

Our next step is… Pursuing bigger and bolder dreams.

 

How to follow a path guided by passion and values.

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What do you want to do when you’re older?” 

In this fast-paced, ever-changing world we live in, society pushes us to make a decision about the rest of our lives at a time when many of us have not even discovered who we are, let alone who we want to become. Our answer to the aforementioned question varies tremendously, often being a version of “We still don’t know yet,” mostly because we still don’t know exactly what we want to do, or what the map of our lives looks like. What we do know is what we are passionate about and what motivates us to keep going. In the process of discovering these things, we have found out more about ourselves, and come closer to determining what we want to do.

Our pursuit of discovering our passions and realizing them has led to opportunities beyond our imaginations. We have been everywhere — from interviewing PM Justin Trudeau and Malala Yousafzai, to making a film about girls’ education in Pakistan. We are always so honoured and thankful for the opportunities we have had, especially because each has led us to discovering more about ourselves, as well as the potential all young people have in making a difference right now. 

The truth is, there is so much we can do to pursue our passions and change the world even while we are in school or university, without having to wait until we begin our careers. Over the years that we have been able to work as activists, journalists and filmmakers, our experiences, as well as all the incredible young people we have met along the way, have proved to us that we truly are the leaders of today. In the process of doing what we love or are passionate about, we will be able to find our calling, and potentially discover the answers to questions like what we want to be when we grow up, too. 

 

“While we still don’t know the exact answer to what we want to do when we are older, we’re satisfied with being on a journey of discovery for now, and further exploring exactly who we are, before determining who we want to become.”

 

One of the greatest lessons that we have learned, and we encourage all young people to discover themselves, is the importance of dreaming big. The first time we recognized the power of dreaming big was when we met our hero, Imran Khan (now Pakistan’s Prime Minister), despite everyone around us (including staff members of Khan’s political party) telling us it was impossible. We were thirteen years old at the time, and spent months sending emails and making countless calls, trying to meet with one of the most important people in Pakistan. 

It was our determination and perseverance which allowed us to meet Imran Khan at his home, and personally deliver a donation we had fundraised at our middle school, for the second Cancer hospital he was building in Pakistan. Everyone we knew couldn’t believe it, and to be honest, neither could we. But throughout his life, Imran Khan never gave up on his dreams despite what other people said, and after we met him, realizing one of our biggest dreams at the time, neither have we. 

If Imran Khan taught us the importance of dreaming big, then being filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess campaign taught us to redefine our dreams, and stretch the limits of our imagination, because anything is possible. We grew up watching Disney movies, and creating amateur films using our mom’s video camera. If you told those little girls that one day they would be making their first professional film with the Walt Disney Company, they would have never believed you. In fact, being part of such an incredible project, and being chosen from thousands of applicants globally to participate, is still unbelievable. What we know for sure is that the Dream Big Princess project has left a profound impact on our outlook of life, and has helped us pursue bigger, bolder dreams than ever before. 

Perhaps the most important lesson of all has been discovering what we value the most, and what motivates us to keep going. We identified this during the most fulfilling moments of our lives, which have been working with girls in our village in Pakistan, and empowering them to continue their education. We have been working in that community since we were eight years old, and spending time with the girls there is always so inspiring for us. 

Supporting other girls and young people in general, while striving to create equal opportunities for them to realize their dreams is tremendously important for us. During this process, we have also found out more about the intersectional nature of causes like gender equality, climate justice and inclusivity. For the girls in our village, the disproportionate impacts of climate change that they have to face prevent them from consistently going to school. It has been first hand experiences like this, which have led us to make Gender Equality, Climate Justice and Inclusivity the focus areas of our non-profit, The World With MNR

Today, we study many topics related to social issues and justice at university, while being storytellers, activists and the co-executive directors of our non-profit, among other involvements in our local and global community. While we still don’t know the exact answer to what we want to do when we are older, we’re satisfied with being on a journey of discovery for now, and further exploring exactly who we are, before determining who we want to become.

 

Meet Ony Anukem: Social Media and Content Manager at Women of Influence & Show Host of Twenty5 Podcast

Growing up as the first of four daughters, gender equality and leadership came naturally to British-import Ony Anukem. By day, she is the Social Media and Content Manager at Women of Influence — but she also wears another hat as the Show Host of the Twenty5 Podcast, a bi-weekly interview podcast that she started to guide young women through their mid-twenties. Since launching in July 2019, her podcast has featured as the #1 Society & Culture Podcast on the Apple podcast charts in several countries and has accrued over 10,000 plays in 50+ countries.

 

My first job ever was… was working as an entertainer for a kids party company, I used to get paid £25 (C$43.65) for a two-hour party. We hosted all kinds of parties from Disney Princess parties to Murder Mystery parties — as first jobs go it wasn’t that bad!

My favourite thing about working for Women of Influence is… the amazing women I get to work with, from the WOI team to all the inspiring and accomplished women in our community that I get to profile and interact with at events.

I decided to start the Twenty5 Podcast because… like many other women, I had grown up with ridiculous expectations of where I should be in my life by 25. As my birthday neared, I thought ‘I can’t be the only woman feeling like this’ and so I started discussing it with my peers and establishing a trend. I eventually started my podcast on my 25th birthday last year, as a platform to get advice from older women on what they wished they knew at 25. I talk to my guests about everything from relationships and career development to mental health.

My proudest accomplishment was… at 18 co-founding ASIM (A sister in Me), a community organization made up of over 260 members from diverse backgrounds, professional industries and areas in the UK, with a common goal of positively using our influence to help girls and women in our community unleash their full potential.

My boldest move to date was… a literal move. In January 2019, I left my family and friends in London, England and moved to Toronto with my life packed into four suitcases and my handbag. People always dream of things that never end up happening because life gets in the way or they don’t end up pursuing it, I’m really glad that moving to Canada wasn’t just talk for me. In my year and a half of being here, I have learnt so much and grown so much, and I have decided to base myself here for the foreseeable future.

 

“It’s easy to miss out on opportunities in life trying to be perfect, I have to remind myself constantly that perfection doesn’t really exist — you just have to go for things sometimes.”

 

I surprise people when I tell them… that I have been to 31 countries and I’d like to see the rest before my time is up.

My best advice from a mentor was… “don’t aim to be perfect, aim to be present!” If you never put your product on the market, nobody will ever be able to buy it. If you don’t finish a job application, it’s impossible to be shortlisted for the job. It’s easy to miss out on opportunities in life trying to be perfect, I have to remind myself constantly that perfection doesn’t really exist — you just have to go for things sometimes.

A piece of advice that I often give but struggle to follow is… don’t expect somebody to act a certain way just because that’s how you would act. I really love the quote ‘expect the unexpected’ — that goes for life events but also people’s behaviour, I try not to project myself or my feelings onto people, but it can be hard sometimes!

My biggest setback was… completing my Masters in Law and then deciding I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I had been saying that I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child and suddenly having this epiphany frightened me.

I overcame it by… leaning into the things that I was good at and passionate about and eventually, I found myself at the intersection of gender equality and media.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I can do a pretty convincing Southern accent. I always tell people that my alter ego is a Southern Belle.

I stay inspired by… learning about the achievements of other women, I just think ‘if this woman can achieve X, then there is nothing me from achieving Y.’

The future excites me because… all through the global pandemic has been really terrifying on so many fronts, we are on the brink of change and I’m hopeful that we will see many positive changes come from this time.

At 25, I wish I knew more about financial management.

In Episode 1 of the Twenty5 Podcast, I am joined by Caroline Anukem (my mother) and she shares that at 25 she wishes she knew more about financial management. We talk about everything from millennials spending habits to what it’s truly like to live your ‘best life.’ Here is an excerpt from Season 1, Episode 1.

 

 Ony: For those of you that don’t know, I’m based in Toronto and my mum is in London. We’re doing this call over the phone even though she’s gonna be joining me here next week. For the benefit of those that don’t know you can you give us a brief introduction?

Caroline: I’m Caroline Anukem, also known as, Mama, AK, sis and several other names. I am a mother of four wonderful ladies — and I can say ladies because they’re all adult ladies. I am married to Stanley Anukem and I have worked with the education sector for the last 26 years. I am from a legal background, studied law and went into education.

Ony: This is really exciting having you on the podcast as my first of 25 women that I am speaking to for the series. The first woman I ever knew, and the first woman I ever loved! So it’s great to have you on here with me today.

Caroline: I love you right back darling!

Ony: Let’s just jump into it… so you said at 25 you wish you knew more about financial management — can you expand on that a bit? What, in particular, do you wish you knew about financial management?

Caroline: Growing up, I came from a family where pocket money wasn’t really the done thing. We got money for whatever we needed and we asked for it on an as and when basis, and I didn’t have a good idea of managing money that well. I think it came from that not having that experience from the very beginning. I didn’t strategize my financial planning and always thought there was a lot of time.

One thing that takes out to me particularly was when I was 25, somebody was talking about pensions and I nearly fell off my seat because I thought it was light-years away. I really wish at that moment, I got into that habit of being a bit like a honeybee and just having that little stash regularly for a rainy day. I was very good at putting money aside for a specific event, but not on that never-never and I think just greater financial awareness of saving plans, ISAs, TESSAs would have have been so useful. This is one of the things I advocate to be taught in schools now, that younger children from a very early age, get taught this in Maths rather than just trigonometry and algebra. Having a situation where they actually learn, and have practical exercises on saving and investing and things like that.

Ony: Would you say that the lack of financial knowledge was a generational thing? Would you say that 25-year-olds now are savvier? Or do you think the same sort of thing is repeating itself?

Caroline: There is a lot more information out there these days about finances, but a lot of the 25-year-olds I see at the moment are living their best life, and it’s great to live your best life — travelling, going out of posh brunches, orders coming in every day beautiful outfits from PLT etc. But I think a lot of them are still unaware and aren’t actually thinking about that thinking about the long-term. And also in particular in London, house costs are quite high, and one of the first investments that a lot of people saved for was a house in my generation, so when you started putting away your house — that was your motivation to save.

Ony: I guess for the average 25-year-old (in London and I would say even here in Toronto) buying a house at 25, just isn’t a realistic goal to set. Those who are savvier and better at saving look outside of the central (downtown) area to buy a house, because the reality is living in the area that you grew up in (for most people) isn’t really possible.

Caroline: So just to go back to your initial question on whether 25-year-olds today are savvier than my generation — yes and no. They have greater awareness, but they’re living a slightly different lifestyle in my generation. Back those who saved and put money aside, it wasn’t so much because of financial awareness but more a natural inclination.

Ony: At 25 you mentioned feeling like you had a lot of time to get your finances together. How, at that time, did you see the next 25 years playing out?

Caroline: I didn’t think I was in a bad financial position, but just looking back I could have made decisions then that perhaps would have left me in a better position: there was living, there was saving but I think back I could possibly have bought more than one property with better financial management, I could have invested in stocks and shares. Those kinds of investments would have made a very big difference.

Now at 25, if you’d asked me to look to 40 to 50, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I would have wanted at that time. And I think in having the vision that then leads you to create the path or the progression routes to get to that point.

Ony: Do you have any other advice that you would give to 25-year-olds now or any advice that you would tell your 25-year-old self?

Caroline: This piece of advice that I’m going to give now — I suppose it’s something that I’ve actually learned from you, rather than advice that I’ll give you but I just hope to keep on using it and all others do. It’s the SatNav approach to life. Planning. It’s important to take a little bit of time to plan, you don’t have to be orchestrating every move but really map out a plan. That’s what I would ask every 25-year-old to do: create a vision board. And just plot it. you’re not being held to it, you’re not accountable. But that’s not to say that you can’t take different routes, because life throws various things others that we don’t legislate for. However, having this vision board in place, you really stop and it helps you visualize where you want to be.

Listen to more Twenty5 Podcast episodes here and follow the podcast on Instagram @Twenty5Pocast for the latest updates.

Lessons Learned: How a senior executive is redefining “having it all” by making peace with compromise

The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.

 


 

 

By Shemina Jiwani

 

Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.

 

We Need Female Executives

There are countless studies which find direct correlations between a company’s profitability and the presence of women in executive and senior leadership positions, most notably McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. Clearly, we as women are doing our part.

Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men.  So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.   

 

Eliminating Unconscious Bias

I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.

Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood.  For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard.  It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.

The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.

 

Find a Work-Life Balance

It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”

 

Here are some good places to start:

  • Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.

 

  • Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.

 

  • Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.

 

  • Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.  

 

  • Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.

 

You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.   

 

Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani

 

Meet Ayleen Farnood: coder, conference speaker, and grade 10 student

Ayleen Farnood is extremely passionate about the fields of brain-computer interfaces and virtual reality. She’s built a program which allows users to spell out words by blinking, coded a chatbot while interning at Microsoft that was deployed to thousands of the company’s employees, spoken at the Connect IT conference, and put together her own personal website to showcase her articles and work. And she’s currently in grade 10. The University of Toronto Schools student has also been selected to be an Innovator with TKS — an incubator designed to prepare young people (ages 13-17) to become leaders in their industries.

 


 

I first started exploring brain-computer interfaces and VR when I was… 14 years old.

 

I became interested in these fields because… I’ve always been passionate about neuroscience and technology and actually attended a neuroscience camp the summer before I joined TKS. After I found out that BCIs actually existed and that I could build projects within the field then I got really interested and it brought me to where I am today. VR, on the other hand, has always been something which I’ve enjoyed to play with (I first tried one in a museum) and so it’s also become an area of interest for me to create these “alternate realities” which we can escape to.

 

My proudest accomplishment is… Being able to work at Microsoft as an intern over the summer and have my projects be actually used within the company! It was such an amazing experience and I learned so much while I was there, especially since I was one of the youngest interns the company has ever had in Canada.

 

My boldest move to date was… Hustling into conferences and hackathons, even if they’re “full” — since they’ve always been such valuable experiences for me. Some of the best and most interesting people I’ve met were at conferences and so if I ever have the opportunity to, I’ll definitely try to get involved.

 

The next area I want to explore is… Combining the areas of BCIs and VR to create extremely immersive experiences where users can interact and perform certain actions as if they are in real life. For example, imagine thinking of walking and then having your character walk within the virtual reality game!

 

I surprise people when I tell them… My age. Many people are always so shocked that I’ve been able to do all of these things and I’m not in Grade 12 or in university.

 

My best advice to other grade 10 students is… Don’t let age be a factor which limits your growth. There’s so many amazing resources online which can let you learn about whatever topic you wish and tutorials for building amazing projects. If you’re passionate enough about something, then start researching it and don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time and effort pursuing your goals.

 

The person I look up to is… Elon Musk. Despite the recent scandals, he’s been able to revolutionize so many fields in tech and create so many successful startups like SpaceX and Tesla. It’s really inspiring to see that someone can have that much of an impact on the world and I’m also really excited for one of his latest startups called Neuralink which is creating a product that will let users type words by thinking.

 

The best advice I’ve been given is… Actually a quote which I’ve posted on the wall of my room. It says, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” — Winston Churchill. It’s really encouraging for me to always be able to see these words and let it keep me optimistic even when going through difficult times.

 

My biggest setback was… While I was working on my BCI project (where users could spell out words by blinking), I had encountered a pretty bad bug which I was unable to fix for the longest time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any solutions online especially since BCIs are still really new and there aren’t a lot of people who are working in the field as of yet. Essentially, I got really stuck and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to successfully complete the program that I had been working on for many, many hours.

 

I overcame it by… Contacting numerous BCI experts across Canada and in The States, asking them if they would be able to provide me with advice for my problem. Within less than a week a few of them ended up replying and they all gave me really valuable advice which helped me get past my roadblock. So not only was I able to finish up my project, but I was also able to establish some really great connections with other people in the same field who now act as some of my mentors!

 

I stay inspired by… Continuing to hear about all of the major problems in our world today and how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to learn about new fields in tech that will literally revolutionize the way in which we live our lives. When I grow older, I really want to be able to have a positive impact on millions of people across the globe, especially by solving one of these major problems which we’re currently facing.

 

The most exciting thing about brain-computer interfaces is… What’s in store for us in the future! If we’re able to successfully build brain-computer interfaces, we may soon be able to have brain-to-brain communication where we can literally talk with just our brain signals!

 

The future excites me because… Technology is growing at such an exponential rate that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the new discoveries being made or products that are created. With so many experts around the world all working to improve our future, I’m really excited to see what life will be like in 10, 20, and even 30 years down the line.

 

The career I aspire to have is… To be the CEO of my own startup! As of right now I’m unsure of what exactly the startup will be about, but it’s definitely something which I’ve always wanted to pursue and hopefully create a company that can impact millions of people.

My next step is… Continuing to learn as much as I can about VR, BCIs, and other fields in tech. I’m currently programming some more virtual reality games and I’ll soon begin researching how I can combine the two technologies together to create some really cool projects!

 

 

How Ravina Bains became the “Top Under 40” in the investment industry

Although Ravina Bains’ interest in finance started at a young age, she still took a circuitous route to her present role of Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank. Recently awarded the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada Top Under 40 Award, she’s proof that following your passion pays off.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

You could say that Ravina Bains has been preparing for a career in banking since she was a child.

Growing up in Vancouver, B.C., Ravina remembers waking every morning and turning on the TV before school. It was usually tuned to BNN (Business News Network), a channel her dad liked to watch before heading into work. Over breakfast, her interest was sparked.

“My parents were immigrants from India, so the investment and financial industry was where they turned to not only reach their own financial goals, but also to support their children’s goals,” says Ravina, Vice-President of Commercial Banking/Canadian Wealth Management Sales Integration at Scotiabank.

“I even remember my parents taking me to meetings with their financial and investment advisors. So, for me, very early on, the financial and investment industry always represented an industry that helps improve the lives of families and helps them realize their dreams.”

 

“As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

 

Those early days of inspiration would ultimately lead to Ravina becoming a rising star in the financial services industry. She was recently selected out of 28 nominees to win the 2018 Investment Industry Association of Canada (IIAC) Top Under 40 Award. This annual award recognizes talented young professionals whose accomplishments have brought distinction to the industry and their local community.

“I was shocked, but also very thankful,” says Ravina, of receiving the honour. “As someone who has an unconventional academic background for a banker, it’s great to see that organizations such as Scotiabank and the IIAC are recognizing the importance of diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.”

Ravina took a somewhat circuitous route to get to her current role at Scotiabank. After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Ravina completed not one, but two master’s degrees — a Master of Science in Law from Oxford and a Master of Arts in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from UBC. She spent the first few years of her career in government, working in the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. After another three years at a public policy think tank, Ravina brought her expertise to Scotiabank, joining the bank as National Director, Aboriginal Financial Services.

Even now, as a busy executive, Ravina is pursuing her PhD. “Education has always been an important part in my life,” she says of her zest for academia. “I like to be constantly learning new things and expanding my knowledge.”

 

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry. It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.

 

In her current position at Scotiabank, Ravina builds processes and strategies to help the commercial banking and wealth management services teams address their clients’ needs — a position she finds “extremely rewarding and exciting.”

Her leadership extends beyond her official role as well. Ravina is Co-chairwoman of the Commercial Banking National Women’s Group, which aims to advance gender diversity within the commercial bank. She’s also a committee member of Impact at Scotiabank, a group that promotes mentoring and professional development in the bank’s Wealth Management division.

Ravina has this advice for other young women hoping to emulate her success: “Trust your intuition and believe in yourself,” she says. “Have confidence in your abilities and decisions.”

She also suggests that in order to advance, women need to “be in the driver’s seat” of their careers. “Invest time in your career development, network, seek out a mentor.”

It’s also important to remember to pay it forward, says Ravina.

“I’ve benefited from both mentors and sponsors, and I now mentor a number of women inside and outside my industry,” she says. “It’s extremely rewarding to be part of their professional development journey.”

As for her own career goals and ambitions, Ravina says she wants to continue to work in positions where she can lead a team toward a common goal and help her organization advance. But she also hopes for roles that allow her to give back to the community and help individuals realise their dreams.

“That’s why I love the financial services industry,” she says. “There’s great purpose to the work that we do.”

 

Distilling the Corby Culture: Meet Amandine Robin

Amandine Robin

Named “Top 30 Under 30” by PR in Canada, Amandine Robin is making her mark at Pernod Ricard, the worldwide co-leader in the Wines & Spirits sector with brands such as Absolut, Jameson, Chivas, and J.P. Wiser’s. In the span of just a few years, she’s rocketed to the top of the corporate ladder, recently promoted to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA. She shares some of the innovative ideas that have led to career success at Corby Spirit and Wine, the Canadian affiliate of Pernod Ricard.


For Amandine Robin, wine has always been in her blood.

“I was born and raised in Reims in the Champagne region,” says Robin. “So I was living five minutes away from the G.H. Mumm Champagne — one of Pernod Ricard’s brands.”

But despite growing up near France’s vineyards, Robin fell into in the wine and spirits industry. She actually worked in the financial and legal sectors for several years, before stumbling upon a Corby’s job advert for a Communications Manager.

“For me, it was the dream job,” she says. “To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

She applied and won the position. Since joining the Pernod Ricard family, Robin has distilled a culture of innovation into the company, and transformed how the company communicates. It has led to a big boost in employee engagement and corporate brand awareness, multiple award wins, and personal promotions — most recently to Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Pernod Ricard USA, the group’s biggest affiliate.

“For me, it was the dream job….To be working in communications and with a company [linked] to a region where I was raised in and loved.”

“We imagine corporate communication as writing speeches for executives or writing press releases,” she says. “That’s not at all how I see it. It’s about being completely transparent, working together, and creating excitement inside and outside the company.”

Robin credits the success to an executive team that’s “open to trying things differently” and values collaboration. While novelty may scare some companies, Corby welcomed her fresh ideas and experimentation with new approaches, especially in tough financial times. With this “carte blanche” in hand, Robin has spearheaded some cutting-edge initiatives that are now reaping major rewards for the company.

“Our tagline globally is ‘creators of conviviality,’” says Robin. “That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

One such initiative is Corby’s Den, a corporate challenge based on CBC’s Dragons’ Den TV series that sees top management travel across the country to hear employees present their best and most innovative business ideas.

“That’s one aspect that I really love about the company: the emphasis on the people and the conviviality. It’s about ‘what do we give to the world?’”

“Employees were put in teams and had 10 minutes to pitch an idea to our dragons,” she says. “The size of the idea didn’t matter — it could be something small that doesn’t cost anything or a big national idea to change the system.”

At the end, the “dragons” selected a handful of winning ideas to implement across the company. What was most surprising? Participants loved the “Corby’s Den” experience, even more than the company conferences held overseas.

“They liked the chance to see the executive team in a smaller format and share their ideas,” says Robin. “It was great from a business point of view, and the executive team discovered talents that they might not see from Head Office.”

Robin also launched “I Thank,” a corporate program to boost the company’s non-financial employee recognition. Based on gamification principles, employees can virtually award each other achievement badges with a personal congratulatory note, which are visible online to the entire company. Employees move up the levels of recognition as they accumulate badges, with those reaching gold receiving an extra week of vacation and $1000 donation to a charity of their choice.

“It’s a created a culture of recognition,” says Robin. “Within one year, the ratings of non-financial recognition increased by 25 per cent. And the program cost zero dollars!”

Under Robin’s leadership, Corby is also winning awards for corporate social responsibility, such as a Road Safety Achievement Award from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation for the Corby Safe Rides program. This annual partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission promotes responsible drinking and provides free public transit on New Year’s Eve — ensuring that everyone has a safe ride home.

“Being a socially responsible company drives employee engagement,” says Robin. “We’re the department distilling the culture — both inside and outside the company.”

As for Robin, she’s eager to keep up the momentum in her new role and continue “making a difference” inside and outside of the company.

“What I’m the most proud of is changing how we do corporate communication,” says Robin. “The pride of our employee engagement and being excited to come to work every day. That’s what I find rewarding.”

Meet Natalie Panek: Rocket Scientist and Advocate for Women in STEM

Natalie is a rocket scientist, adventurer, and advocate for women in technology. As a Mission Systems Engineer at MDA’s Robotics and Automation division, Natalie works on the next generation of Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs. She seeks to pursue the road less traveled while working towards her dream of becoming an astronaut.

As told to Meghan Jeffery

 


My first job ever was working at the Calgary Science Center where I welcomed guests on stage prior to shows in their Discovery Dome Theatre. Looking back I realize that job is where I really became comfortable speaking in public in front of large audiences.

I would tell my 20-year-old self to work outside of my comfort zone as much as possible and participate in hands-on projects that provide opportunities for building, making, tinkering, experimenting etc. In the engineering and tech world there is no better experience than literally getting your hands dirty.

My dream job when I was a child was an astronaut. And it still is my dream job today; a long-term goal of space travel that I am always working towards.

My proudest accomplishment was persevering to land a coveted internship position at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. I applied for this scholarship four times and was rejected all four times. After the fourth rejection I had the idea to call the Chief of the Office of Higher Education at NASA and was offered an internship on the spot after the short phone conversation. Never underestimate the power of perseverance.

I went into tech because I love working on challenging problems with the flexibility to brainstorm creative solutions. Plus at my job we build hardware that actually goes to space, which is totally cool. It will be neat to say that I was part of a team that put a rover on Mars.

My best advice to young people starting out in tech is to dream big, dare to achieve the impossible, and stay optimistic. Optimism can make or break a team especially when things go wrong (which they inevitably do!).

Related: Interested in more females in tech? Meet Michele Romanow, serial entrepreneur and newest dragon on Dragons’ Den. 

My best advice from a mentor was realizing and understanding that it is OK not to know all of the answers all the time.

I balance work and life by making time for priorities – and I think being an engineer teaches you very well how to manage priorities. While I love what I do, I don’t think looking back on my life I’ll wish I spent more time on the computer, but I’ll always want more adventure.

My biggest passion is the outdoors. What I find particularly interesting is how interrelated my career in space and passion for the outdoors has become, especially from a conservationist/activist perspective.

Natalie_Panek_400x400The best extra-curricular activity I got involved with was building a solar powered car as part of a university team that we raced across North America. And I was a driver during the race. Crossing the border between two countries in an experimental test vehicle was unreal.

Women in tech means shedding myopic mentalities and leveraging communities with diverse perspectives to positively affect our future.

Millennials are in a unique position, having been shaped by technology, to harness the digital age that we live in to revolutionize the way we live and work.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that I play competitive ultimate Frisbee.

I stay inspired by embracing curiosity. I think it is extremely important as we grow to maintain childlike wonder; to look at the world with wide eyes and so many amazing opportunities for lifelong learning.

The future excites me because there are unlimited opportunities to learn and explore. The vastness of space and of the world around us makes us want, and need, to know more.