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SHEday 2017: Why your story is not yet written

Winnipeg women in business take the stage to inspire crowds.

“The story’s not written for you yet. Slow down and be in the moment.”
A powerful message from Lee Meagher, CEO of Winnipeg-based Scootaround, was echoed in the words and sentiments throughout a jam-packed convention centre featuring dynamic female leaders and women in business.

What originally launched by the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba as a networking forum has evolved into something much more powerful. SHEday 2017 stormed the RBC Convention Centre on Friday, January 13 drawing 1,100 delegates — nearly doubling the attendance of its first run only three years ago.

SHEday 2017 audience

SHEday 2017 Winnipeg

While numbers can often speak for themselves, it’s what drives the crowd that makes for a fascinating story. Let’s face it – networking can be a flurry of business cards, new faces, small talk, luncheons, handshakes and forgotten names. Add to that the din of today’s digital likes, shares, pins, posts, follows, tweets and tags and a clear point emerges: good stories are what get you noticed.

The many occasions in which the entire room at SHEday 2017 was fully captivated were the result of incredible stories being shared from the main stage. Stories fueled by diverse inspirations of hardship, doubt, privilege and friendships dared each of us to look within ourselves to discover what motivates us on a personal level.

Motivating messages from all the speakers will resonate with the audience well beyond just one day, and although it is a challenge to select the highlights, these are three of those incredible stories to reflect upon.

Jennifer Botterill: Capturing golden moments with peers and allies

It would seem that three-time Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Botterill was designed for success in the sport of hockey. Her father was a renowned sports psychologist, and her mother, an Olympic speed skater, added to the family’s success.

It was tough to deny conditions were perfect. And although Jennifer doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the benefits she was granted from a young age, there is no doubt her sheer character carried more weight in her achievements than anything else.

The charismatic athlete suggests there is privilege in responsibility. We tend to appreciate the advantages – and sometimes, plain old luck – bestowed upon us, and view our daily responsibilities as burdens. Yet our responsibilities are more often than not a result of something we have achieved or built for ourselves; a job, children, close friendships and community involvement.

Jennifer attributes her endurance to the idea of “sustainable high performance” – crediting pure enjoyment as fuel. It’s humanly impossible to attain perfection, but many of us are so blinded by the mythical endgame that we forget to enjoy ourselves along the way.

Positivity is powerful and can have a significant effect on those around us. It’s an unfortunate truth that many women are wired to view one another as threats rather than allies or assets. Instead, the idea of women banding together and building one another up to achieve great things encapsulates what SHEday is all about.

Farah Mohamed: Breaking through first impressions

Farah Mohamed is the creator and CEO of G(irls)20 – a Canadian-based global initiative designed to nurture young women to become future leaders. Likeable and hilarious, Farah shared with the enthralled crowd her unique perspectives as a woman of Indian heritage born in Uganda and uprooted to Canada as a child.

To the agreement of the audience, Farah candidly acknowledged the less enjoyable aspects of networking, pointing to the classic receptions that so many people find intimidating or tiring. “I don’t need to see one more pig in a blanket – and that’s not just because I’m Muslim,” she joked with the amused audience who were nodding their heads.

Rather, Farah confronted the realities of networking in the digital age. The things we tell ourselves “shouldn’t be important” end up being highly significant. Physical appearance, social media performance, your “elevator pitch” and the ability to rock small talk are what first get noticed, and after the three seconds of a first impression it’s a legitimate challenge to change one’s mind.

With this in mind, we were encouraged to look around the room and consider the idea that amongst the sea of strangers could be a future business partner. Farah suggested that if it weren’t for a networking lunch in Ottawa years ago she wouldn’t be standing on this stage. To network effectively is to “close the gap between experience and opportunity.” You never know what life-changing moments may lie ahead, so it’s wise to present and position yourself in a way that optimizes your potential.

Sheila North Wilson: Speaking up and advancing change for the better

“The tally of murdered and missing Indigenous women is just over 1,200 – the same number of people in this room today.”

Sheila North Wilson is devoted to educating Canadians about the systemic issues that increase the likelihood of violence and sexual exploitation against Indigenous women. This simple yet sobering statistic made the gravity of the situation very real as the women in attendance uneasily peered across the sprawling room.

Sheila’s impressive resume belies the startlingly painful and sometimes tragic stories she told of her upbringing and young adulthood. It’s not inaccurate to suggest her fate could well have rendered her a part of the statistic she shared. But when things were nearly at their worst, the little girl inside her who once dreamed of being a journalist spoke up. Sheila took a risk. She set out to educate herself and change her story.

A handful of diplomas later she became an accomplished journalist, correspondent, economic development officer, radio personality and Cree translator. She is now the Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and is co-producing 1200+, a TV documentary that highlights the issues plaguing Indigenous women. She also created the hashtag #MMIW to raise social media awareness of the epidemic and works closely with peers and leaders to advance change for the better.

Why events like SHEday are vitally important

As attendees of SHEday 2017, we left a little wiser and more inspired than when we arrived. And if that’s not enough to make this event necessary, perhaps this sums it up more effectively:

“Why is SHEday important? Because one day I’d like to be considered just an architect, not ‘a female architect.’ ” – Johanna Hurme, Architect and Founding Partner, 5468796 Architecture

Inspiration was certainly in the air, and online, as Twitter lit up with #SHEday2017 to launch the conversations to the top of the charts as a trending topic in Canada. With such a highly engaged audience posting photos, quotes, inspirational stories and personal thanks, it is no doubt this flurry of activity helped make for a SHEday that has set the bar high for 2017.

What were your favourite moments of SHEday 2017? We’d love to hear your thoughts and inspirational stories, either in the comments below or through Twitter at @MTSTalks.

MTS was a proud sponsor of the SHEday Headshot Lounge and phone charging station.

Up Next: Five of the most powerful women in tech, their accomplishments, inspirational stories and takes on leading big business.

Chelsea Sarbit

Chelsea is a Senior Marketing Communications Specialist at Bell MTS responsible for campaigns targeted to the business audience. The foundation of her career was formed in the ad agency environment, where she spent more than 10 years supporting client relationships, building marketing strategies and managing advertising projects at firms in Winnipeg and Vancouver.

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