Presence and Blind Spots

by Kacey McFee, Predictive Analytics Analyst

I went into my second Womentorship session with a lot of excitement. Excitement to continue to learn from those around me. And I wasn’t disappointed. The topic for the session was Presence. How you can expand your presence in a room, along with some of the challenges you may face while trying to do so. I have to say, my eyes were opened, especially around the key discussion on gender blind spots. Gender blind spots, as presented by guest speaker and author, Delee Fromm , are essentially biases, stereotypes, and practices that occur today based upon an individuals’ gender. They tend to put women at a disadvantage in their careers. Delee explores this topic in her book (which was gifted to all of the Womentorship participants) “Understanding Gender at Work: How to use, lose, and expose blind spots for career success.”

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I have always known these exist. I have a degree in a male dominated field (engineering), almost everyone hears about the gender wage gap, and I have learned of many other disadvantages through my previous experience with Engineers Without Borders, an organization that focuses on equality. The difference however, is that I have been fortunate enough to be in a workplace where I haven’t personally experienced adversity as it relates to my gender. I have both women and men leaders that stand up for me and my team, fully support the work I do, promote growth and development in the direction I want to go, as well as acknowledge efforts and work well done. While I have had some challenging experiences as a result of gender, I don't feel there have been any major roadblocks as a result of them in my career.

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Through the sharing of experiences within the group, I realized how significant gender blind-spots still are. Which in all honesty, is disappointing. But I now know I have other women to lean on if I encounter these same problems so many others have endured before me.  This workshop highlighted situations where biases can occur and even situations in which our own biases affect us. But more importantly, it focused on skills and techniques to help combat these in the workplace and even life in general. 

Now to reduce a 4-hour session into a couple paragraphs, the following are some facts that stuck with me from the session:

  • Women do better negotiating for others rather than for themselves

  • Career advancement is a marathon, not a sprint

  • Women should feel empowered to talk about their accomplishments

  • The difference in habits learned by girls and boys from a very young age are often the initial source of many of career limiting biases women face.  Why do we compliment little girls on being pretty and boys on being strong?

  • As a leader it is important to develop a variety of leadership styles and to be able to use all of them

  • Overcoming gender blind spots is everyone’s responsibility

When I left the session, I was feeling a little discouraged.  The fact that tough, unnecessary challenges people face because of their gender is so prevalent, can drain you. On top of that, it is intimidating to know that because I am a woman, I have a higher chance of facing some of these same issues. But alongside the discouragement I still feel empowered. I now have tools to add to my toolbox and women, both inside and outside of my organization, to lean on if those challenges occur. If anything, I am now more prepared and know that I won’t let the experiences of those before me go to waste.

So Much to Learn

What is the Betty-Ann Heggie Womentorship Program?

The Betty-Ann Heggie Womentorship Program  is an opportunity to connect with successful women across a wide variety of disciplines. The program started in 2010 and is administered by the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan. Protégés are individually matched with a woman who has 15+ years of experience in order to create a formal mentorship, and allow for one-on-one mentorship sessions to be scheduled throughout the program. However, while you are matched with one amazing women, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with all of the other participants in the program through formal group sessions. These sessions, which take place throughout the year, focus on personal and professional development. The program is designed for motivated women, providing access to formal mentorship, which for many, is challenging to find within their own workplace.

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Why I am excited to be a part of it:

When this opportunity was suggested to me by a colleague, I was very excited. Through my experiences working in Malawi with Engineers Without Borders and backpacking across South East Asia I have really come to appreciate how much you can learn from the people around you. I know I still have so much to discover, especially as I embarked on my first full year in the corporate world. This mentorship program isn’t designed to give you all the answers to problems you may encounter or tell you what choices to make. Rather, through the sharing of experiences, both positive or negative, you gain both knowledge and skills to equip you with the tools you will need to be successful.

My first impressions:

When I entered the room for the first session I could feel the energy shift. The positivity, support, and acceptance in the room was tremendous. I found that in this environment people were truly willing to share their stories and ideas, all parts of them, so that we could learn from each other. The session was introductory in nature: getting to know the women in the room, including my mentor, and brainstorming ideas on future topics to help prepare us for the rest of the program. The open environment made me want to share my own ideas and stories. It opened my mind to new concepts and helped me gain an understanding of the challenges that so many women and in some cases, people in general, are facing. Overall, I left the room feeling empowered, strong, and privileged to be connected to so many wonderful people.

“I am extremely grateful that ISM Canada encourages and supports personal and professional development, so that I and so many others in the company are able to attend sessions such as these.”
— Kacey McFee - Predictive Analyst, ISM Canada