Female leaders on breaking glass ceiling

Women encouraged to forge their own paths

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
The panelists were Wanda Costen

Successful women at Queen’s gathered virtually on International Women’s Day on March 9 to discuss how they broke the glass ceiling and how other women can, too.

Panellists Wanda Costen, dean of the Smith School of Business; Jane Philpott, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences; and Kim Fulton, a leadership consultant, spoke to students and faculty about how women can build confidence and their careers.

They discussed barriers they faced in their careers as women and, more specifically, when they realised their gender played a role in how their fellow colleagues judged and perceived their abilities.

Philpott only discovered her gender was a “problem” when she served as a Federal Minister of Health later in her professional career. 

“There were times that my divergent views were not necessarily helpful [in my career],” Philpott said. 

Having lived in one of the poorest countries in West Africa, Niger, Philpott realized while the hierarchical concept of gender in Canada and beyond was problematic, there were a plethora of other inequities people had to deal with in Niger. She said intersectionality impacts women differently. 

Costen shared the impact that intersectionality has had on her. During a meeting with fellow staff members, one of her superiors told Costen her passionate energy was being perceived as anger. 

“[They were feeding into] the angry Black women narrative,” Costen said. “How would [this perception] had been different if it was said by a white woman?” 

Something that helped each of the panellists knock down barriers and build their careers was acquiring a sponsor or mentor. 

“I have had the opportunity to have a lot of great mentors throughout my career,” Fulton said.

She said these leaders offered different outlooks on her career and helped create opportunities for her that didn’t always exist.

When the audience asked how they should go about finding a mentor, Fulton said working with different people is the key to having people respond to one’s abilitiesand the feedback they give you.

In terms of building your leadership skills, Philpott talked about asserting yourself and jumping on opportunities to grow your career. 

Understanding who gets to make the rules and how you can get into a position where it’s possible to change those rules is key to making the workplace a more equitable place for women, Philpott said.

Costen agreed women having the courage to step up and take on leadership roles inside and outside the workplace is important. She said women are hesitant to apply to jobs because they think they are not qualified. 

The panellists discussed self-doubt and building confidence in the workplace. Society can blame women’s lack of confidence on the woman rather than the environment that she’s in,

Fulton said. 

To tackle this barrier, Fulton suggested the audience should write down a list of why they might be qualified to take on a task or apply for a job and then just go for it. 

In the final few minutes of the seminar, panellists were asked what advice they would give their younger selves and audiences. 

“Follow your purpose,” Philpott said. 

“Invest way more time getting to know who you are and stop thinking about what other people care about,” Fulton said. 

“Be you,” Costen said. “You are enough.” 


Jane Philpott, Kim Fulton, Panel, Smith, Wanda Costen, women

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