Creating Connections 5.0: Event Recap

May 26, 2017


On May 5th and 6th WWEST brought together 238 people for two days of networking, panels, workshops and keynote speeches. After months of planning, hard work and perspiration, we are proud to say that this event was a resounding success! So many inspiring and engagement moments happened throughout the two days of the conference, which is why we decided to recap a few of our favourite. For a visual recap of the event, as captured by YogaPanda Photography, visit our Creating Connections Facebook page to see all the event photos.

"Why are Women Leaders Undervalued" panelists (left to right) Dr. Joy Johnson, Edoye Porbeni, Kristine Steuart, Judi Hess and Jan K. Grude.

Simon Fraser University’s Vice-President Academic and Provost, Dr. Peter Keller opened up the conference by reaffirming SFU and WWEST's commitment to creating opportunities and encouraging people of all genders and backgrounds to explore and pursue STEM. He also used the opportunity to recognize that both the conference and SFU are located on the traditional territories of Coast-Salish-speaking Nations. Following his opening remarks, we got to hear from a stellar panel of CEO's who discussed why women are undervalued as leaders. SFU's Vice-President of Research, Dr. Joy Johnson, set the stage with some statistics about women in leadership positions. Did you know that women make up only 8.5% of leadership positions in Canada’s top 100 companies? Jan Grude kicked off the discussion with the fact that he disagrees with the name of the panel. In his opinion, there is no reason to undervalue women, and with his Nordic upbringing, he was always taught that women and men are equals. While many of the panelists agree that women shouldn’t be undervalued, Judi Hess states that the numbers don’t lie, and the statistic of 8.5% is abysmal. Edoye Porbeni then brings up whether we even need to qualify women leaders as women, shouldn’t they just be recognized for their own merit as leaders? The heavy-hitting panel didn’t hold back, giving a candid conversation about the bias they have personally faced, and how they are working as leaders themselves to improve the representation of women in their organizations. 

Attendees during the Friday evening networking reception.

Our first panel discussion was followed by a networking reception. Giving attendees the chance to meet and mingle with other students and professionals from across science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. Attendees discussed how we can improve the representation of minority groups in STEM while snacking on vegetarian pakoras, sliders and other delicious appetizers.

Opening Keynote: Jill Earthy, Chief Growth Officer, FrontFundr

Our line-up of Saturday sessions started bright and early with a keynote from Jill Earthy (Chief Growth Officer at FrontFundr). Jill’s presentation was a wonderful way to start off the day, giving attendees an overview of how underrepresented women in STEM are, who can have an impact, and what we can do to improve the situation. One of Jill’s most memorable lines (borrowed from startup founders Jennifer Brandel and Mara Zepeda), was that in order to support sustainable improvements in diversity, we shouldn’t use mythical unicorn companies who are bent on disrupting current practices as our champions, but instead, we should look towards and praise zebras. Why? One, zebras are real, and two, zebras are both black and white. Zebra companies are profitable and work towards improving society, giving sustainable impact, and a business plan that everyone can get behind. 

To encourage creating connections, we had our first networking session after Jill's speech. Attendees were divided into predetermined connect groups based on their reasons for attending Creating Connections 5.0 which they chose during the registration process. This networking session was a chance for attendees to meet new people and develop connections within similar fields. 

"Career Mobility in the 21st Century" panelists (left to right) Fiona Douglas-Crampton, Sheryl Peters, Marg Latham, Alex Read and Rhylin Bailie

Following the designated networking session we had our first set of panels and workshops. These sessions were divided according to our session track themes: personal and professional development, entrepreneurship, and advocating with impact.  

In our first room, we had the “Career Mobility in the 21st Century” panel, which featured speakers who have taken unexpected journeys towards their current professional field. One of the key messages expressed by the panelists was that in order to succeed in today's job market you need to be constantly open to or seeking new opportunities. This can include knowing when to ask for new responsibilities within an organization or even knowing when to move on to a different company. The panelists gave honest insight into their life experiences and it was encouraging to hear that it is ok to fail and take risks, as long as you try!

"Defining Your Personal Values" facilitator Dr. Elisa S. Chavez

In the next room was the workshop “Defining Your Personal Values,” led by Dr. Elisa Chavez, who guided participants through a set of hands-on, value-based activities. Understanding your values can be hard, and it requires an internal search of what you think you want (or what others encourage you to strive for) and what you really need. External pressure can make us feel as if we need to reach an executive position within 5 years, or make us feel guilty for not spending enough time with our family – but in recognizing your values and goals (and reevaluating them often) you can have a better understanding of what your personally need for a rewarding career and life. To explore your own values, we encourage you to check out Dr. Chavez’s Personal Values resource guide. Does your current job or field align with your top three values?

"Be a Bias Interrupter" panelists (back row left to right) Kory Wilson, Shari Graydon, Janet Sinclair and Lianna Mah (front row left to right) Brittany Zenger and Kerry Gibson

Our third session during this time block was the “Be a Bias Interrupter” panel. Panelists came from a wide range of backgrounds, including engineering, technology, academia and non-profits, and each had diverse stories on how they have either experienced bias or are working towards combatting it. One of the key messages from this panel, and a message we hoped to build into the entire conference, is that identity is a multifaceted and there are many layers of bias that someone may face. Race, ethnicity, religion, abilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and age may all play a role in whether someone feels welcome or not in STEM occupations.

Following a short break, we had our next set of sessions. Students, young professionals and job seekers found the workshop, “You as a Brand: Online and In-Person,” led by Robyn Quinn, to be extremely helpful in understanding how to leverage social media as a tool for building a network and gaining employment. Robyn left the audience with some great takeaways, including the importance of using LinkedIn like a social network, and not just a virtual résumé. Many attendees also took advantage of our LinkedIn photo session to get a head start on building their professional brand. For tips on how to make the most out of your online brand, we encourage you to watch LinkedIn’s Top 5 Profile To-Do’s Video.

"You as a Brand: Online and In-Person" facilitator Robyn Quinn
“Tomorrow’s Leaders: Business Skills for STEM” panelists (left to right) Dr. Alexandra T. Greenhill, Bill Tam, Sarah Main, Anna Stukas, Janice OBriain and Caroline Andrewes

At the same time was the “Tomorrow’s Leaders: Business Skills for STEM” panel, which featured panelists who have either developed their own companies or who support entrepreneurs and small businesses through financial means, mentorship and/or guidance. Panelists spoke about the importance of business skills for entrepreneurs, leaders and anyone who aims to present themselves in the best possible way. A key takeaway from this panel was the importance of getting to know your own skill set, including where you thrive and where you could use improvement. Panelists encouraged getting leadership experience through volunteer work as soon as possible in your career, and to use every event and conference as a networking opportunity. For a list of mentorship and entrepreneurship resources from this panel, click here

"Businesses of Tomorrow: Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion" workshop facilitator Aileen McManamon

Our last (but definitely not least) session during this time block was the “Businesses of Tomorrow: Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion” workshop, facilitated by Women’s Enterprise Centre’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Aileen McManamon. The first half of this workshop covered the business case for diversity. Businesses with a diverse staff and supplier chain benefit in the following ways, they reflect the marketplace which expands their customer base, a larger talent pool leads to increased innovation, more diversity enhances governance through improved decision-making and overall leads to improved financial performance. For the second half, Aileen facilitated hands-on activities for attendees to discover their own unconscious bias and how to be an inclusive leader. To explore your own bias and leadership style, check out Women Enterprise Centre’s activity sheet here.

Afternoon Keynote: Kathy Kinloch, President, BCIT

Our afternoon keynote, Kathy Kinloch (President of BCIT), was a poised professional on the stage. She kicked off the keynote by inviting the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to someone new. She encouraged everyone to try and get to the core of who a person is when networking, not just ask them what their name is and where they work. Following the brief networking session, she used her keynote to discuss some of the bias she faced as a woman leader, and how she showed academics that it wasn’t just an old boys club. Kathy also used the opportunity to highlight the wonderful ways BCIT is working towards improving the representation of women in technical fields. In preparing for her speech, Kathy invited some of BCIT's leading women to share their opinions on the current status of women in STEM. They shared the following wisdom:

"This isn't a male or female conversation. Equity benefits everyone, and everyone needs to work together. If we talk about equity, it leads to opportunities, and those opportunities start to create change." - Dr. Sanja Boskovic the Power Engineer Department Head at BCIT 
"I've benefited from having great mentors and support. One of the most important things we can do for each other is offer encouragement and mentorship. Never underestimate the positive influence we can assert." - Dr. Jennie Moore, the Associate Dean of Building Design and Construction Technology at BCIT
"The Work-Life Balance Myth" panelists (left to right) Janny Marie Peterslund, Agnes d'Entremont, Shenaz Hanif Shahban, Karen Savage, Jessie Adcock and Jonathan Musser

Kathy and her fellow BCIT women shared some inspirational insight into how to succeed in both STEM and leadership positions, as well as how to support other women at all levels of a career.

Our next block of sessions included “the Work-Life Balance Myth” panel. Panelists shared their personal stories about raising a family while maintaining a career, working in a field that has a 24/7 schedule and some even opened up about being unable to achieve or maintain a healthy balance in their own lives. One of the biggest takeaways from this panel was, to be honest with yourself and with your partner. Sometimes you may need to step away from a job and take a brief leave or reassess how the labour within your home is divided. Balance is not something this is always maintained, but something that is achieved over a lifetime.

"Communicating Your Message" facilitator Kaylee Byers

In the next room, we had Kaylee Byers who facilitated the “Communicating Your Message” workshop and featured some of the cutest presentation slides!  Kaylee’s workshop covered how to discover the core message behind your work and/or research and then how to effectively communicate it to your target audience. For example, if you are doing a public talk you may want to focus more on the background, conclusions and impact of your work, but if you are doing a group meeting then methods and results may be the most important aspects to highlight. For more information on how to turn your work into a story, we encourage you to visit

Our third session during this time block was the “Outreach: More than Kids” panel, featuring speakers from a variety of scientific, engineering, and conservation outreach organizations. The panel focused on the importance of reaching out to adults, both to increase their own STEM knowledge but also to encourage the future generation of STEM professionals. Some of the successful adult-oriented programs discussed during this session include Science World After DarkH.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s Cosmic NightsNerd Nite Vancouverthe Minerva Foundation and the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

"Outreach: More than Kids" panelists (left to right) Michael Unger, Rachel Schoeler, Sandy Eix and Melisa Yestrau
Closing Keynote: Wyle Baoween, CEO & Co-Founder, HRx

Our closing keynote, Wyle Baoween (CEO and Co-Founder of HRx Technologies Inc.), gave attendees some insight into how unconscious bias and our brains work. At any given moment, we are subjected to 11 million pieces of information; however, we can only process 40 pieces of information consciously. Bias is developed when we unconsciously take in information that affects our decisions and judgments. Wyle’s expertise is in systemic bias, and in particular how applicant tracking systems reinforce in-groups and out-groups. The current systems use key word searches that closely match the qualifications outlined in the job description.  This process tends to favour agentic language, and therefore white men (to learn more about gendered language read Dr. Shannon’s CRA article). That is why Wyle co-founded HRx, so that hiring practices are blind to gender, race, income, and other factors that may affect why someone is unconsciously kept out of the in-group. Wyle’s speech, and his work at HRx, gives us all hope for what the future of hiring practices in STEM will be like. A future, where someone is not held back because of a factor they cannot control, but instead everyone is given a fair and equal opportunity.  

Just a few of our stellar Creating Connections 5.0 volunteers.

Before we wrap up Creating Connections 5.0 for now, we want to say a big thank you to our team of volunteers, who were poised, eager to both help and learn and who always had a smile on their faces! The whole WWEST team wishes you all the best in your future endeavors. As well, thank you to our program committee who helped put together a fantastic program with amazingly talented speakers. 

Thank you to the sponsors of Creating Connections 5.0. Without your support, none of this would be possible! Thank you for showing that you are dedicated to increasing the diversity in STEM fields.

Finally, thank you to everyone who attended Creating Connections 5.0. You were an engaged, inquisitive audience who supported one another and asked poignant and thought-provoking questions. 

Star wall for attendee comments.

If you missed Creating Connections 5.0, don't worry! We compiled the handouts, resource lists and videos that were distributed or presented throughout the conference. Visit the WWEST Creating Connections page to access the resources. We also compiled our thoughts on the Creating Connections 5.0 planning process, the event itself and a special interview with "Why are Women Leaders Undervalued" panelist Edoye Porbeni, in a new podcast episode. Check out our special Creating Connections 5.0 episode of Best of the WWEST!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Creating Connections 6.0, set to take place in May of 2019. If you want to help make Creating Connections 6.0 a reality, please reach out to us at  We are looking for volunteers, speakers, sponsors and other partners to keep expanding and improving the conference series.

To see the full wrap report for Creating Connections 5.0, please click here.