Meet Holly – the woman who is helping other women batter through the glass ceiling and achieve goals they weren’t sure they would be able to in male dominated industries…
I first met Holly at a networking group she had taken over in mid 2016 just after I had moved to Vancouver.
It didn’t take long for me to click with her, given we both have kitties and if you let me talk your ear off about cats, I’m pretty much going to like you forever. And now I know her secret about spreadsheets, I feel like we are almost the same person.
She also has some kick arse business cards…
I’m a leadership coach for women in male-dominated industries. I work one-on-one with ambitious women to help them lead, get promoted, and create the careers they actually want in industries they love.
I spent the first ten years of my career working as a mining engineer in one of the most male-dominated spaces — just 17% female. I use the unique perspective I gained as a woman in mining, alongside my obsessive nerdiness for all things feminism and career to help women create the working world they deserve while they wait for the rest of society to catch up.
After ten years in the mining industry, I got tired of seeing myself and all of my female friends and colleagues hit up against the same things again and again. It’s exhausting.
I’ve heard it described as death by a thousand paper cuts, and that’s definitely how it felt to me. So I couldn’t just sit back and hope that it would change one day — I had to do something to change it myself.
There are two different approaches to helping women succeed at work — a ‘change the system’ approach, and a ‘change the woman’ approach.
The ‘change the woman’ approach says that women just need to learn how to navigate the working world as it exists — learn to communicate differently, apply to jobs more aggressively, etc. Effectively this approach says that women just need to adapt to the existing predominantly male blueprint of leadership.
This approach feels a bit condescending and leaves a lot to be desired, and I think misses the unique opportunity we have to redefine leadership to something that works better for both genders.
The ‘change the system’ approach says that women are fine just the way that they are, and that we need to work on the conditions, processes, and biases that make it more difficult for women to succeed in the working world. Obviously, I’m very pro-‘change the system’, and to work on that, I consult with companies to help them retain their female staff.
But — and this is a big but — changing the system isn’t enough.
Large-scale cultural change, like we need to make equitable workplaces, takes a long time. Remember, I used to work in these industries. I’m damn sure that I probably would have cried if you told me, “Holly, I know the system sucks now, but don’t worry, we’re working on it, and in 10-15 years, you can have that awesome career you’ve always wanted”.
Changing the system is vital work, but it’s not enough for ambitious women who are watching their talent go unrecognized now.
So I coach women to find ways to change the system, but also to adapt when it’s not quite there yet.
I want a working world where women don’t feel the kind of unrequited love I felt in my career.
I also asked what keeps Holly inspired in her business –
I run a local meetup — Women in Male-Dominated Industries (WIMDI) — and last year we did talks on how to successfully navigate your performance review and negotiate.
A woman came to an event a few months after that, and happened to sit next to someone who had attended the performance review talk.
She mentioned that she had a review coming up, and her new buddy excitedly proceeded to teach her everything she learned at the talk I organized.
That woman later went and just killed it at her review — and successfully negotiated a huge promotion & title increase that was well beyond her years.
I love this story because it shows off the power of my favourite things about WIMDI –– solid career and leadership advice, and connecting with other women.
I spoke at Women in Tech Week last year about the three pillars of success for women in male-dominated industries. A woman I really admire — a strong leader and advocate in the women in tech community in Vancouver — came up to me afterwards and told me she loved the talk because it was the first time she realized that she was allowed to be upset about how incredibly unjust these industries can be for women.
My talk gave her permission to grieve for the career she couldn’t have, and the career that so many other women can’t. Grieving sounds counter-intuitive, but it can be a huge weight lifted to just have a good old fashioned pity party because the reality of fighting for women in these industries is that you won’t win every time, even if you do everything you can.
Even as you work to create the world you want, you can still be a real human being with feelings, and I’d argue that you actually have to if you want to survive.
Fun stuff about Holly
- I am obsessed with 90’s and early-2000’s slang
- My idea of a straight ‘illin date night is making spreadsheets with my honey. We’re both engineers — what can I say?
- My partner and I own three cats — Meeko, Minou, and Boo — and some people say that this makes me a crazy cat lady. I passionately disagree. I think you can only be a crazy cat person if you have more than two cats per person, and in our household we have only 1.5 each, so I’m skating in under the threshold.
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