”She/Ze Leads the World: a summit for women leaders in the North” is a three-day event being put on by SMRT Women and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, starting with an reception the evening of Nov. 19 followed by two days of panels, keynotes and workshops. (Submitted)

Whitehorse summit hopes to inspire, empower women to reach for leadership roles

“She/Ze Leads the World: a summit for women leaders in the North” takes place next month

An upcoming conference in Whitehorse is hoping to help encourage and empower women to step into leadership roles.

“She/Ze Leads the World: a summit for women leaders in the North” is a three-day event being put on by SMRT Women and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, starting with an reception the evening of Nov. 19 followed by two days of panels, keynotes and workshops.

Selene Vakharia, the owner of SMRT POP UPS and one of the summit’s organizers, said that research has shown that there’s an “extreme benefit” to communities, organizations and companies when women are in leadership roles.

However, women still face a host of barriers when it comes to becoming leaders.

“I think there’s definitely external barriers where there’s fewer opportunities that are offered to women to enter into leadership roles and that’s for a whole bunch of reasons, but ultimately it’s very cultural or societal in that reasoning,” she told the News in an interview Oct. 22.

Besides those external factors — for example, bias against women in power; social expectations about how women should dress, speak or behave; pay disparity; having a healthy and sustainable work-life balance — women must battle internal challenges too, Vakharia said.

“There’s a lot of research showing that women are more afraid of failure and have less confidence in their ability to lead or to be a leader despite all the evidence showing that women actually have more leadership traits or perform better on leadership traits than their male counterparts do,” she explained.

SMRT Women and the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre were inspired to put together the summit after seeing previous conferences and events for women entrepreneurs and women interested in getting involved in politics, Vakharia said. Those events were well-attended and inspiring, she said, and they wanted something to keep the momentum going and that would be relevant to all women in the territory.

“Knowing that the Yukon is full of amazing women of all ages, we really saw the importance of putting together something that would inspire people towards leadership roles, help people realize that leadership is more than just being at the top of the organization, but that all of us have an opportunity to be a leader in the way that works for us and that’s meaningful to us,” she said.

“(We want to) offer an opportunity to develop skills to move people towards leadership positions and foster those relationships both with mentors as well as within our communities of peers that could help support us all in getting there.”

The summit has been roughly divided into three parts, Vakharia explained — identifying and celebrating everyone’s strengths, recognizing and learning to face both internal and external challenges, and finally, creating a personalized “action plan” and learning skills to make that plan happen.

Besides hearing from two keynote speakers — Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and Vicki Saunders, an entrepreneur and mentor — attendees will also participate in panels touching on topics including northern knowledge and leading with reconciliation in mind and breaking down systemic barriers.

There will also be workshops on everything from strategic planning to understanding how to use storytelling as a form of advocacy, and women will have the chance to meet potential mentors or mentees and otherwise build connections.

Vakharia said organizers tried to ensure that there’s something at the summit for women “across sectors,” including women working with NGOs, in private or public sector and women running their own businesses.

“We really tried to make sure that there was something for everyone and we touched on themes that would be beneficial no matter which of those sectors you’re in,” she said.

“We’ve also tried to structure it so there’s opportunities for emerging leaders, so younger women who want to come and learn those skills but also have an opportunity to then connect with women who have been within their leadership role for longer … since we know, from the research and from what we see out there, it’s important for women to have champions and mentors in their career paths in order to help them move along that career path and excel.”

Financial assistance is available for women who may not be able to afford a summit ticket on their own, as well as for childcare and travel from the communities.

“She/Ze Leads the World: a summit for women leaders in the North” takes place at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21. More information, including a schedule, list of speakers and a link to buy tickets, is available online at yukonleadershipsummit.com.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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