— Inner Voices —

What I Wish I Knew

A new group offers women professionals advice and support to break through the barriers

NAVIGATING THE DOWNTOWN WORKPLACE isn’t easy, especially when you’re a young woman professional who can still face a glass ceiling. In response, Lesley Vaage and Jodi Goebel — both professionals who work downtown for the City — have created What I Wish I Knew, a group that aims to help young (and older) working women of all stripes share advice and help each other. The group works to shift trends, including those demonstrating that young women can still be held back in their careers by traditional professional structures.

Q: TELL ME HOW THIS PROJECT FIRST STARTED.

GOEBEL: As many career folks do, Lesley and I often found ourselves chatting about work, and some days were frustrating. We started discussing how to share some of the things we wish we’d known five or 10 years ago. For young women, there are lots of easy fixes to things that seem really challenging.

VAAGE: I always tell the story of a friend of mine who’s in her mid-twenties. She was talking to me and explaining how she had frozen in the middle of a meeting with her boss and some other managers. I kind of know what to do in that situation. There are actually ways to get through this.

Q: WHAT DO EACH OF YOU DO FOR THE PROJECT?

VAAGE: We really worked in all of the minute details for the first event: finding a space, getting the speakers organized. Now we’re looking towards a model in which the volunteers can get onto that, and Jodi and I can start to focus on some of the larger pieces.

GOEBEL: For the first event (in September of last year), it was just all hands on deck. From there, we worked together to put some structure around the organizing committee and engage some new volunteers. Someone usually tries to keep a closer eye on how the event is getting up and running.

Q:WHAT HAVE YOU ACHIEVED WITH THIS SO FAR?

VAAGE: We found a need for this type of support work for young professionals. What we’re really doing is building a community for young professionals in Edmonton, to help them and to train them on the skills you don’t necessarily get when you’re at school.

GOEBEL: We’ve been blessed with a lot of good anecdotes. I ran into a young woman at coffee last week who said she’d actually changed careers as a result of our second event (in October). And it doesn’t matter if you’re 21, at your first job, or you’re 41, on your second contract renewal. It’s sort of staggering how rare it is to have a conversation about the day-to-day things we can make easier for each other.

Q: HOW DO YOU TWO HOPE THE PROJECT WILL PROCEED FROM HERE?

VAAGE: We have a few events in the calendar that we haven’t announced yet, but we’re really excited about the themes we’re exploring.

GOEBEL: We had to regroup really quickly in the fall last year to say, “Okay, you know, there is a demand for this, so how are we going to meet it?” Our ultimate vision is to be able to say that with these grassroots conversations, we’re actually driving more equitable workplaces in Edmonton.