“Everybody stand up! This is dramatic!”
Celina Caesar-Chavannes, the Member of Parliament for Whitby, was lying down on the floor. It wasn’t much past 10 a.m., and more than a hundred young women and men hesitantly rose from their seats, genuinely but also nervously laughing at the spectacle in front of them. Caesar-Chavannes was trying to make a point; when you fall down after a mistake (or as she calls it, after meeting Miss. Take), you need to stay down for a while and reflect before getting back up again.
It was the first day of the 2019 Queen’s Female Leadership in Politics Conference (QFLIP), and Kingston’s Harbour Restaurant was home to what would be two and a half days of moving, inspiring (and often hilarious) speeches, panels and workshops.
QFLIP was filled with more lessons, practical tips, and anecdotes than there is room for me to write. With that being said, here are five main takeaways that stuck in my mind.
1. You can’t break glass ceilings without getting cut.
This wisdom was explicitly stated by Celina Caesar-Chavannes, but it was implicitly woven into every single speech and panel throughout the conference. Making change, breaking down barriers, and paving a new path won’t always be pretty; there will be failures, obstacles, setbacks, and moments of pain and exhaustion. In the end, however, you’ll have one heck of a story to tell.
2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
This was probably the most common piece of advice I heard. Very few things, if any at all, will be handed to you. Do you want a mentor? Ask somebody. Do you think you deserve a raise? Ask for one. Are you having trouble finding a job? For every person who says no, ask five more.
3. Learn how to play the game.
We all have ideals of how we want the world to work, but the reality is it’s a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world out there. Nancy Ruth, a philanthropist, advocate, and former senator, emphasized the importance of figuring out how the system works and using it to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first and play to your strengths. Women are badass; don’t be afraid to show it.
4. Never forget those coming behind you.
Trailblazers are just that: making the trail for those who come next. Women with privilege need to be aware of how their privilege is working for them, and use their voice to advocate for and amplify the work of others who have more ceilings to shatter. During the Women in Journalism panel, Rachel Pulfer, the Executive Director of Journalists for Human Rights, suggested the practice of “amplification”: women verbally repeating (amplifying) the ideas and suggestions made by other women with added praise or validation. Women accomplish incredible things when we work together.
5. You don’t have to know what you want to do.
It’s perfectly okay to not have everything figured out. Most of the women who spoke at QFLIP didn’t realize their passions until they were into their 20s or even their 30s. In the 1980s, a 20-something-year-old Queen’s graduate applied to various investment firms on Wall Street because her housemate’s brother had told her over HoCo weekend that she would make a good trader. That 20-something-year-old was Cindy Tripp, who is now one of the top senior financial services executives in the country. If you aren’t ready to commit to one sector or career path, it’s okay. Take the opportunities that present themselves to you and everything will fall into place. As Celina Caesar-Chavannes said, “Nothing meant for you will ever pass you by.”