Empowering Advice from the Women Powerhouses of Beyond the Glass Ceiling


On September 20th, we hosted YWiB Vancouver’s signature panel event, Beyond the Glass Ceiling, at Mobify. In honour of this year’s theme of ‘Women Powerhouses,’ we invited five incredible women in positions of leadership at their companies to join our forum on women and leadership. The powerhouse panel consisted of Pria Sandhu from BC Doctors of Optometry, Sandy Pell from Vidyard, Natalie Cartwright from Finn.ai, Jennifer Li from MuseFind, and Dr. Lois Nahirney from DNA Power. During our discussion, they shared valuable stories and insights on how they have navigated their career paths, managing and motivating their teams, being a woman of influence in their respective fields, advocating for gender equality in the workforce, and more.

On Leadership & Managing Their Teams

When asked to describe what leadership means to them, these female leaders provided definitions that prioritized the value of building a strong and sustainable team. Pria sees leadership as more than one’s title and role; for her, it’s about how you act towards others in regards to how you develop, engages with, and empowers those around you. As a leader, Pria is dedicated to fostering an environment of trust, autonomy, and dialogue, and is committed to seeing her team members as who they are as people. Lois believes that the best leaders ask great questions so they can generate great thoughts and answers from everyone involved. Such leaders should encourage their team to contribute to the success of the company by providing feedback as well as give their employees room to develop their own opportunities. For Sandy, leaders come to their teams with solutions to problems, not problems to solve, and tackle issues together with their team in the spirit of moving forward together. She encourages growth as it puts people into fight or flight mode, which is where she often sees people realizing their greatest capabilities. To Natalie, leadership is about being fair, doing what’s right and best, leading with integrity, and leading with a work hard and play hard mindset.

On Overcoming the Challenges of Being a Woman in the Workplace

In regards to facing gender inequality in their careers, these women are committed to doing what they can to change their industries and work culture by pushing for equality. Lois recounted a past memory of acting like a man after being told to and then being criticized for it. The lesson she derived from this experience was that she should be true to and respect her true self and encourage authenticity and diversity in those she leads. Natalie is hyperconscious of the gender inequality in her industry of tech, as she is often the only woman in the room. Whenever she feels the imposer syndrome, she reminds herself that she belongs in the room and uses power poses to help boost up her confidence. Natalie also addressed the fact that there are unconscious biases ingrained in our society and that we should be mindful of language and tone when communicating. As a mother and a career woman, Pria sometimes wonders if she is doing enough to be involved in her children’s lives, but to her, it's those big challenges that pushed her the most and motivated her to be a working mom. Jennifer commends women who have overcome struggles and work hard and believes women should celebrate their womanhood and use the challenges to push forward and progress in their careers.

On the Big Question of Salary Negotiation

Natalie is an advocate for women asking for higher salaries. She has found that women typically ask for $15,000 less than men, which is a significant difference. In her advice, she recommends doing your market research and then adding 20% to what you think you should ask for. In regards to being paid accordingly in comparison to your counterparts, Lois suggests directly asking, "Are you paying me on an equal basis as others in this role?" If pay is non-negotiable, also consider negotiating benefits like delayed start dates, paid time-off, more vacation time, and professional development opportunities. Don’t sell yourself short, sell yourself high!

On Avoiding Burn Out and Prioritizing Time Management

When answering an audience question on how to avoid burn out at work, our leaders emphasized the importance of time management. Sandy recommends drilling down what you can do with what you do and excel at, communicating what you are capable of, and asking for help when needed without being afraid of appearing inferior. Jennifer challenges her team and herself to say no. She recognizes the importance of forgiving yourself when you make mistakes and to remember to take care of yourself by eating well, sleeping well, and being well. Natalie recommends taking breaks to allow yourself to have moments of introspection when you can breathe, decompress, and think with clarity.

On Embracing the Career Journey Ahead

The panelists have enjoyed the ride along the winding and uncertain path that led them to where they are now in their respective careers. Lois recalled how she ended up where she is today due to sudden events in her career, and how having empathy and an open mindset opened many doors for her. Natalie recounted the life-changing experiences she has had with meeting people while traveling and recommends throwing yourself in the deep end to try new things out and subsequently learn a lot. Pria's education in different fields - from urban planning and labour relations to economics and law to human resources, finance, and marketing - gave her a diverse resume and were building blocks that led her to where she is now. She ensures she leaves a handprint on every organization by making a positive impression and staying in touch with previous colleagues. Sandy, who has dabbled in art, sales, portrait photography, social media, and public relations, all of which are now interwoven into her current roles, advocates for people to explore and play in their careers. When wrapping up our invigorating panel, Jennifer advised everyone to take advantage of open opportunities and not be too hard on yourself if things don’t turn out the way you want them to, as that is where the greatest lessons come from.

Join us for our next event on How to Build and Make Meaningful Connections with April Bellia on October 18th! See the event page for information and tickets.

Elizabeth Rosalyn The is the Communications Coordinator for YWiB Vancouver's events team. Currently, she is the content & social media specialist at Rise People, a digital HR software company that brings HR, payroll, and benefits together in an all-in-one people platform.

A lover of stories, she lives to explore and write about the arts, music, entertainment, travel, and culture, all while sipping on a cup of earl grey tea. She is one of the founding directors for the pop culture & lifestyle magazine, The Hudsucker. Visit her personal blog at Elizabeth Rosalyn.