Last fall’s We for She event in Vancouver had such an impact on KSS Grade 12 student Caitlin Kingsmill that she figured there should be a similar event in Kelowna.
So, with the help of her friend Juliet Watts, a fellow Grade 12 student at the and president of the the KSS Global Awareness Club, the pair have spearheaded We for She Kelowna, a gathering of 250 students from the Central Okanagan’s five high schools, planned for April 13.
The one-day gathering will look at the issue of gender inequality, but unlike the Vancouver version, which was aimed at adults and brought together hundreds of female business leaders and young women from across the province, the local event will include male students.
“We going to look at the lack of gender equality in the work place and the unconscious bias that’s all around,” said Kingsmill. “We’re trying to inspire people to want to change that.”
Watts said when Kingsmill came to her with the idea of a Kelowna forum, she was struck by a statistic her friend heard at the We for She event in Vancouver. It was reported there that are now more CEOs called John than there are female CEOs.
“That stuck with me,” she said.
Kingsmill and Watts were in Victoria on Wednesday, International Women’s Day, to speak about their plans for the Kelowna event with Premier Christy Clark, who announced a second provincial We for She event will be held in Vancouver this fall and a new mentorship program for young women was being started province-wide.
The two local students were accompanied to Victoria by Stephanie Baziuk of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and Danielle Hofer of the Women’s Enterprise Centre, both of whom are acting as mentors for the Kingsmill and Watts and helping them with the organization of the We for She Kelowna event.
Baziuk said this is the first time the chamber has worked with high school students and hopefully not the last.
Kingsmill, said she went to the We for She event in Vancouver last fall with her mom,who works for the Women’s Enterprise Centre in Kelowna. The centre, set up by the federal government in the 1980s, helps women secure funding and provides support to start businesses.
She said what she heard in Vancouver made her think and that lead to the idea of gathering 50 Grade 11 and 12 students from the area’s high school to come together and hear speakers and participate in workshops aimed at addressing the issue of gender inequality in a number of different forms in the workplace. Current statistics show that women, on average, earn 83 per cent of what men earn for work of similar value.
Watts said the Global Awareness Club at the school has never organized an event as large as the We for She Kelowna gathering but she hopes it will have an impact on her peers.
She said it is important to raise awareness of the issue with youth in order to prompt change.
Principals from the five schools—KSS, Rutland Secondary, Okanagan Mission Secondary in Kelowna, Mt. Boucherie Secondary in West Kelowna and George Elliot Secondary in Lake Country— have already met to be briefed on the plans for the event and any student interested in attending can get more information from their school’s administration.
The larger provincial event We for She brought together more than 1,500 people in the fall to advance gender equality, give students and young women a greater understanding of their career options and potential, expand their confidence in what they can achieve and give them a chance to meet dynamic and successful role models.
As part of her announcement, Clark said the government will provide $132,000 towards the creation of a mentorship pilot project. Members of the Premier’s Women’s Economic Council in partnership with the Women’s Enterprise Centre, Junior Achievement and the WEB alliance, will deliver the program throughout the province.
“On this International Women’s Day, it’s important to celebrate and recognize successful women,” said Clark.
“Young women and girls need to see others succeeding in fields that traditionally have been dominated by men. The We for She conference and the new mentorship pilot program will help more women acquire the skills and knowledge they need to maximize their potential.”