‘Your inner voice is a jerk*. Learn to ignore it.’

A room packed with women and a few men strike a pose with their hands up to represent

Pinterest Canada head Erin Elofson, left of centre in a "Strong Female Lead" shirt, McMaster Employment Equity Specialist May-Marie Duwai-Sowa, front, and a sold-out audience of women and "guys who get it" strike a post to show "Balance for Better," the theme of International Women's Day 2019. Photo by Anna Verdillo

“I don’t feel qualified to be up here speaking to all of you.”

That’s how Erin Elofson began her talk to a packed, sold-out audience in the Great Hall at the University Club. Don’t let imposter syndrome — feeling you’re not qualified or successful enough to be where you are — hold you back, she warned.

Elofson is the Country Manager of Pinterest Canada, a web platform with more than 250 million users worldwide, whose mission is “to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love.”

And based on the standing ovation, applause, laughter and whoops of encouragement she got from a lively crowd of faculty and staff, her speech on International Women’s Day did just that.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was Balance for Better, and Elofson talked very candidly about the pervasive biases and systems that hold professional women back from finding the balance they need, and keep businesses from creating more balanced, diverse workplaces.

Sometimes it’s sexism — intended or unconscious — in the workplace. People talk over women, they don’t take them seriously, they discourage them from advancing, they talk about ambition like it’s a bad thing, to name just a few.

The list was depressingly long, as Elofson noted, pointing out that everyone in the audience was nodding in recognition as she described workplace scenarios.

“Inexperience can be a strength,” Elofson pointed out. Being new at something means you see problems in a new way and come up with creative solutions. “Don’t let the feeling that you’re inexperienced hold you back.”

Sometimes the obstacles are closer to home: A partner who doesn’t take a woman’s career seriously, an expectation that every woman wants a spouse and children, “helpful” reminders to girls and young women that it’s hard to succeed as a professional.

At the end of her speech, Elofson reminded the audience — except for a few “guys who get it,” the crowd was all female faculty and staff — that their harshest critic is often their own irrational inner voice.

“Your inner voice is an irrational jerk*. Mine is. Just learn to ignore it.”

*(Elofson didn’t say “jerk.” The actual word she used was more anatomical.)

The International Women’s Day talk was organized by the Academic Women’s Success and Mentorship Committee and Human Resources Services, as part of ongoing efforts to make McMaster more inclusive and welcoming.

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