As many as 200 young women will get a chance to peer into their own futures on Friday as St. Margaret’s School in Saanich plays host to SheBiz, a day-long program designed to expand the horizon for promising young students.
The program, which is being overseen by the Victoria chapter of Women in Capital Markets — a network of women in the Canadian capital markets — is in its sixth year and is making its first stop in Victoria.
According to Tamara Bonn, co-chair of WCM Victoria’s steering committee, the day will feature the stories and insights of business professionals, entrepreneurs and women in the technology sector. The hope is that it will open the eyes of young students to what is available to them beyond the traditional courses of study in university.
“Studies have shown that while young girls have really strong skill sets in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], the reality is they are not going into those fields in university,” said Bonn, portfolio manager at TD Wealth. “One of the problems is they may not have female role models, or mentorship, to illustrate what a real-life career would look like for them.
“We want to make sure their eyes are open to the various options. And the skill sets women have are so desirable in our world right now, but it still seems like there are huge barriers for them.”
The event will run at St. Margaret’s for young women in Grades 10 and 11 from 10 area high schools.
There will be presentations from accomplished women from a wide variety of businesses, many of which might not have been on the radar for these students.
Cathy Thornicroft, head of St. Margaret’s School, said events like this are critical in giving young people a broader view of what might be possible.
“I think our young girls need direct contact with role models who have been successful in the fields of finance. I don’t think we are well represented in that field,” she said, adding that this is equally true of technology and entrepreneurship.
“I’m not sure if that’s due to confidence or the fact people haven’t told girls they are capable … and should be looking at these careers.”
Thornicroft said bringing together both finance professionals and the entrepreneurial set is uniquely Victorian.
“I think Victoria is different than places like Vancouver and Toronto, which have strong finance bases. Here there are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs, that’s the spirit of Victoria,” she said. “And if we can capture [the students] a bit earlier, we may be able to open their eyes to other opportunities.”
Bonn said events like this make a huge difference.
When she was starting out in Vancouver, having completed a finance and economics degree, she felt her options were limited.
“And I knew my skill set wasn’t aligned with accounting, but I didn’t feel like there was a lot of choice,” she said.
She kept asking questions of people in the finance industry, looking for pathways to different careers and learning what it would take to succeed.
It’s the kind of thing not taught at university, she said, noting that through her inquiries, she gained insight into what was required for her to forge a new career path.
“At 21, the next five jobs I had, I had never heard of before,” she said, adding it came down to finding role models who could light the way.
SheBiz, she said, is about passing that knowledge on. Bonn hopes that by sharing her story and telling students about the chances and risks she took, they might see what’s open to them.
“Sometimes the biggest thing they lack is not knowing what’s available to them,” she said.
Bonn admits that it’s difficult to judge the efficacy of things like SheBiz, though she said there has been some improvement in her own corporate world.
“Generally speaking, I do find myself the only female in the room a lot of the time,” she said.
“But it’s a little better now in the role I am in, now [that] it’s a senior role.”