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  • Sheila Reynolds

'This is the best time to be a woman in history'

There's a place, the middle, where you realize you've come a long way, but you don't know exactly what lies ahead and it's too far to turn back.

It's a "messy" place, says Kylie Toh, due to the fear of the unknown. The outcome is unpredictable and overwhelming, knowing it's going to take everything you have to get to the end.

Toh was one of 16 speakers at the SheTalks Tech event Nov. 5 in Vancouver. Speaking to an audience of about 200 for her allotted eight minutes, Toh, the founder of Chic Geek, shared both the thrill and tear-filled terror she's experienced bringing a major event – her first Geeky Summit in Alberta – to fruition later this month, helping build female confidence in technology.

"It's a weight that feels like it's crushing me," she told the crowd at Telus Innovation Centre.

Her message, however, was one of hope: Being in the middle means you're challenging yourself. And if you share your sometimes-crippling struggles, people will rally around you.

The theme was not uncommon among the lineup of diverse speakers.

Amber Turnau, for example, said the best moments of her life have come through discomfort. The marketing communications manager at Telus advised practicing resiliency, treating it like a muscle that will remember how to react when needed.

"I have come to accept I don't know how it's going to turn out but I'm going to do it anyway," Turnau said.

Flytographer CEO Nicole Smith remembered the day her panic attack struck.

"I'm not good enough, I can't do this," she thought as she sat in her car by the side of the road prior to launching her travel photography business. But she faced her fears, building a company that now covers more than 200 destinations, pulling in $2 million in annual revenue.

Mona Akhavi CEO or Sidebuy, also encouraged breaking the stereotype and not taking the easy route, as did Daily Hive's Sharan Sumal, who dared the audience to make mistakes and wrong choices.

Making plans is great, agreed Dr. Lesley Shannon, Associate Professor and Chair for the Computer Engineering Option in the School of Engineering Science at Simon Fraser University, but "don't be afraid to say yes to other options."

Edoye Porbeni, entrepreneur and CEO of Future Health Ventures Inc., talked about how busy women have fallen into the trap that they have to give up activities that fill their soul because of a lack of time.

"You do have time to design the life that suits you," she said, pointing to the apps she uses to organize and prioritize her life. "See the possibilities…and use technology to reel them in.

"This is the best time to be a woman in history!"

Kerry Gibson also cautioned against turning automatically to 'no.' By saying yes, she holds the title of president of Ecocentury Technologies Inc. and is now working with the United Nations to expand work supporting Canadian women and youth.

"Yes leads to extraordinary," Gibson said. "Be extraordinary."

Many other speakers reminded the mostly-female audience to listen to themselves and not be misdirected by the plethora of outside influences.

Victoria Cross recalled listening to the various voices telling her what she was supposed to be. The day she was informed she was a bossy, abrupt and emotional leader, she launched on a path of self-doubt, questioning how she was projecting herself to the world. Now a senior community strategist at NationBuilder, she learned to trust her own voice and now uses that intention to mentor and elevate others rather than simply lead them.

Brittany Whitmore, a former actor and model, never imagined herself working in the tech industry but followed her heart and is now not only an entrepreneur and marketing specialist, but the founder of TEDxGastownWomen.

Lana Bradshaw, co-founder of the mobile massage app Revive, talked about how expectations and outside influences led her into three failed relationships, including two divorces.

Lois Nahirney, president and CEO of dnaPOWER Inc. and SkinDNA Inc. recalled often being the only woman at the board table and being confused when she was told to be more like the men and then criticized for not being ladylike. Like the others, learning to trust herself led her in the right direction.

Sarah Main, CEO and co-founder of Reach Social, also talked about perceptions, broaching the concept of knowledge as our social currency. As opposed to society's notion of beauty as currency, which only depreciates, why not knowledge, which can only appreciate, she asked?

Virtual reality (VR) was Kayla Kinnunen's focus. A director, designer, producer and developer of VR games, she pointed to the medium as being the most empathetic medium, allowing the user to actually feel what it's like to be in another space.

"This is actually going to change our lives, change the way we communicate," she said.

For registered nurse Megan Stowe, change came when her personal values and career collided head-on. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she discovered the mango-sized ovarian cyst. Her baby wasn't developing and doctors told the mom-to-be, rather bluntly, the situation looked bleak for her child, offering no compromise. As a nurse, she questioned how she would have handled the nightmare had she not had a medical background.

With the cyst removed, her daughter's health thrived and she was born healthy, but Stowe's passion for nursing was forever transformed. She's now the Chief Clinical Information Officer for Fraser Health, always pushing for the patient-centred care she wished she had experienced.

"The challenges in life can be such powerful motivators."

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