QWIL 2019: Top Takeaways

Redefine: The People, The Image, The Impact. From November 7 – 10th, this was the phrase that defined the new and improved Queen’s Women in Leadership conference. About 100 students across 18 different Canadian universities came together in the heart of downtown Toronto to promote the discussion of equity and inclusion in the workplace. As this was my third year attending the conference, I can confidently say that this was my favourite year yet. It was a jam-packed three days filled with engaging speakers, networking sessions and most importantly, a top-notch group of individuals ready to advocate for change. 

Over the course of the conference, all delegates had the opportunity to interact and connect with different professionals from a wide variety of industries, all with diverse backgrounds, different perspectives and insights. Three key ideas kept reoccurring that are applicable to all aspects of life and very useful to me, so I decided it would be absolutely selfish not to share them! So below, see my Top 3 QWIL takeaways that will develop personal success and promote inclusion in the classroom, boardroom and everything in between.

                                                                Photo Courtesy of Megan Farrell

The first takeaway from the weekend is the concept of unconscious bias. Simon Fish, the General Counsel of BMO, was the first to discuss this concept at the keynote dinner on Thursday. Unconscious bias is when you unknowingly give preference to a particular person because your lived experiences allow you to relate closely and get along with this individual. This could be caused by shared attributes such as a similar personality, similar looks or similar experiences in the past. He discussed unconscious bias in the context of an interview process, where an interviewer may be unconsciously influenced by these factors to choose one candidate over the other. It's important to recognize this concept and test yourself to identify if you may have any unconscious bias that could influence a decision. Being aware of unconscious bias can help promote diversity and inclusion when hiring for clubs or groups on campus and affects how you handle everyday interactions. 

The second takeaway from the conference is self-confidence, and more specifically, how to build confidence. When walking into an interview, it’s important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are and to show that you recognize these attributes in yourself. As Coca-Cola representatives explained, weaknesses are merely opportunities for growth and it’s important to present yours in this way. Additionally, we had former Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, speak about her experience with self-confidence while dealing with hurtful retribution in the media. After losing support in the polls, Mrs. Wynne had to keep her self-confidence high by reminding herself of her competence and not letting gender-targeted hate messages get to her. In her keynote speech, Kathleen Wynne inspired all of the delegates in the room to maintain the same optimism and passion that so many young girls seem to lose at a certain age. Confidence comes from being the hardest working in the room, even if that means not being the loudest. 

                                                             Photo Courtesy of Instagram: @queenswil

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, one of the key takeaways from QWIL was how to include men in the conversation of equity and diversity in the workplace. To speak on this, I asked delegate coordinator Nayeem Haque to discuss his thoughts on this topic:

“The issues surrounding women in the workplace can’t be solved with only one group coming together. It takes many different voices and opinions to champion change. It requires allies in every corner to echo your message. Encouraging men to be part of the conversation surrounding gender parity helps to create those allies. The rebrand of QWIL has created opportunities for more men to engage in the conversation. It is not enough to educate yourself about the issues and only focus on the statistics behind them. We also have to actively unlearn biases and assumptions that we naturally hold from our lived experiences. It is one thing to read an article that talks about underrepresentation and pay gap differentiation between men and women, but it is completely different to listen to Kathleen Wynne discuss her popularity in the polls being directly affected by gender. Listening to a male executive speak about how he came to realize the unconscious biases he held and the steps he took to overcome them provides perspective for men who often don’t encounter females in their workplace. It gives men a needed perspective on what females go through in their careers.” 

                                                                Photo Courtesy of Instagram: @queenswil

In conclusion, QWIL has left all of the delegates optimistic for a future of gender diversity and inclusion by using these three takeaways. I've been very lucky to attend this conference for the past three years, and am in awe of the executive team for their flawless execution in transitioning this conference to Toronto. As well, a huge shoutout to the extensive list of sponsors including CIBC, Deloitte, RBC, 437 Swimwear, McDonald’s and more. As all of us who want to be business professionals say, “The networking may fade, but LinkedIn connections last forever.”