Insights at UBC Sauder

Soon-to-be graduates encouraged to amplify female voices in the workplace

Posted 2019-03-20

Thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, more and more stories of misconduct in the workplace, especially against women, are recently coming to light, highlighting the challenges posed to those who fight to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. The MBA students at the UBC Sauder School of Business are determined to understand and surmount these barriers, and they want to learn from women who have witnessed these challenges up close.

The Women in Business Club and Net Impact Club at UBC Sauder recently hosted a discussion seminar with Dr. Carol Liao, UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar and Christie Stephenson, Executive Director of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics. They shared stories of their encounters with challenges as working women, and offered strategies to empower soon-to-be graduates to tackle some deep-rooted hurdles.

"The MBA cohort is very diverse. Many are unaware of the complex challenges in a workplace and what can be done to provide help to victims who are in a compromised situation," said Bhumika Kamra, a full-time MBA student at UBC Sauder and co-President of the Women in Business Club for the 2020 cohort.

"As we will soon be entering the workforce, we wanted to hear Dr. Carol Liao and Christie Stephenson reflect on their challenges share their insights."

Ariana Barer from UBC's Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (SVPRO) also educated students on the provisions that are at their disposal should they encounter problem behaviour, and how they can support friends and colleagues who are survivors of assault.

Dr. Carol Liao, also an assistant professor at UBC's Peter A. Allard School of Law, reflected on some common barriers she has both observed and tackled while working in business law and corporate governance for over a decade and a half.

"The #MeToo movement isn’t just about sexual harassment – it is about power and how we value women as a whole. Workplaces need to change, and a major barrier for women is unconscious bias,'" said Dr. Liao. Almost half of the audience was comprised of male students — an encouraging sight that organizers acknowledged.

Dr. Liao believes that in times when the odds are stacked against women in the workplace, fellow colleagues can play an important role of support and empowerment.

She said: "One of the things both women and men can do is help to amplify a female colleague's views. This isn't speaking on someone's behalf, but ensuring the voices of their colleagues are heard. This is a powerful bias interrupter."

Dr. Liao also had candid advice for people should they grapple with harassment. She noted that the onus is on the business to ensure safe reporting mechanisms are in place. She suggested that students build a solid reputation from the get-go and develop mentors and allies. And should they encounter a moment when they're pitted against senior representatives of an organization, they should be prepared to report without fear.

"You will know who holds power in your workplace. They could be people you look up to; earn their confidence. So when it comes to reporting an episode of harassment and holding someone to account, you have credibility on your side."

Christie Stephenson echoed Dr. Liao's advice on finding allies. She reminded students to expand their scope when searching for the right mentors: "Don't just look for mentors who've made it to the top. Also look for support from your peers and women colleagues who may be juniors in corporate rank but are powerful."

She also recommended that women "get out of the gate faster" to make up for time potentially spent towards parenting and caring for seniors — unaccounted activities that are usually perceived to be led by women in the family.

"As a young woman entering the workforce, if you want to be at the same standing as male peers, you have to be acting faster and earlier on your career moves."

Stephenson also recommended that graduates play their part in propping up diversity through small contributions that could have a big impact. One suggestion both Stephenson and Dr. Liao reinforced was having more female representation on panels and forums.

These insights and suggestions resonated strongly with Kamra, who was keenly aware of her own cultural backdrop as she organized the talk. She has worked in the judiciary system of India, a male-dominated field. There, she often confronted prejudiced behaviour because of her youth and was taken less seriously than her male colleagues.

"My primary concern before graduating is not knowing the Canadian job market, and whether or not I'll be taken seriously in the industry," said Kamra.

But hearing Dr. Liao and Stephenson offered both context and confidence.

"It was incredible to hear from two powerful women who have also surmounted barriers. There are many forces opposing us, but today I learned that we need to navigate through the barriers and make a difference not just for ourselves, but for others too. It's not just about finding your voice, but also ensuring that your voice — and those of your colleagues — is heard."