Inspire, support, build relationships and learn were among key aims of an event that packed an uptown dining room with more than 100 women Friday afternoon.
Hosted by local Liberal MLAs Stephanie Cadieux (Surrey South), Tracy Redies (Surrey-White Rock) and Marvin Hunt (Surrey-Cloverdale), the afternoon tea was planned to mark International Women’s Day (March 8), and featured three women who shared their careers, the paths they took to reach where they are today and advice for others.
A key message from Surrey assistant fire Chief Shelley Morris was one she’d given her own daughter just the day before: trust yourself and be open to change.
“You just have to take the first step,” she said, in response to a question posed by Cadieux. “You don’t know your opportunities and you don’t know what the next step is going to be until you take that first one.”
Morris told the crowd that she found her passion at age 26 – and it wasn’t being the P.E. teacher that most people told her she should become, given her athletic prowess.
At that time, just two other women were working the job in Surrey, she said, and “we had to represent our entire gender.”
Now, two decades later and with more than a dozen female firefighters in Surrey, “we just have to represent ourselves.”
“It’s just getting the word out there that we’re not trying to fill a role that should’ve been filled by a male. We’re females getting an opportunity that we should’ve had all along because we’re good candidates.”
In addition to the changes she has seen since joining the Surrey Fire Service, Morris spoke to the issue of gender quotas, acknowledging that many perceive it as simply forcing organizations to meet certain requirements without regard to experience.
“I disagree,” she said.
Instead, Morris credits it with the increased interest that’s been seen in the fire service from skilled women, and the diversity it has led to within the ranks.
It helped remove barriers, she said.
Entrepreneur Annie Christiaens had three pieces of advice for those who are just starting out in business, including “be aware of what it really takes for the first couple of years” in order to be successful.
“It is 16 hours a day for the first year and there is no other anything in your life,” she said.
Other tips she had were to not focus on money in the beginning, but “just follow your heart and people will show up for you.”
Lastly, “get some rest.”
Cici Liang, who started the Surrey/White Rock Community Engagement Society, said an important aspect of finding solutions is “to find the common ground.”
Asked what advice she had for new immigrants, Liang said they should feel good about who they are and where they’ve come from; learn the culture and the language and get involved in their new community; and, “don’t be shy.”