The ninth annual Spark Women’s Leadership Conference was held online last week.
The conference, based in Fort St. John, featured several speakers and workshops from around the province and attracted attendees from across the country. However, the event is designed to and focused on building leadership capacity, professional skills, and connections between women working in the north.
This year’s conference was called “Game On: Powering through Change.” Sessions focused on navigating the constantly shifting landscape of the working world.
Speakers this year included banking executives, founders of notable non-profits, stress consultants, and leadership coaches. Workshops included a variety of topics from interview preparation and project management to inspirational discussions on productive habits and building inclusive workspaces. Sessions of speed networking, where participants got the opportunity to meet and form connections with each other, divided up the workshops.
According to Spark organizer Jennifer Moore, creating the opportunity for professional development for women business owners, executives, community leaders, and entrepreneurs—and young women seeking to build the skills for these pathways—is vital, especially in the north.
“Because we’re in the energy sector region, [opportunities] tend to be very male dominated. So giving those opportunities to women who take them less often than men do is important,” she said.
In Northeastern B.C., however, those opportunities were previously hard to come by without traveling to a different part of the country, Moore explained.
It costs more—both in terms of time and money—for women living and working in the north to build those skills and make those connections at far-flung gatherings.
Spark was launched nine years ago as a way for women in Fort St. John and surrounding areas to grow and develop professionally without having to leave home for conferences in larger centres several hours away, Moore said.
“So a two day conference in Vancouver, Calgary, wherever it is, becomes four days because of travel,” she said. “And everybody’s life still goes on.”
The conference was also launched with local businesses and organizations in mind.
There was a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in every window in 2014, Moore said.
“It was not too far off what we’re facing today.”
Employers told Spark organizers that they had no problem hiring frontline staff. The challenge was in keeping good people and moving them upwards within an organization.
That local element was hard to replicate in the online format that Spark shifted to during the pandemic. Moore is looking forward to being back in person next year.
“There’s something powerful that happens when we’re in the room together, these local connections get formed. Our driving force is not about getting bigger. It’s about continuing to increase the capacity locally,” she said.
Though Spark saw registrations from across Canada when it was held online, that is not a direction of growth the organizers intend to pursue in the future.
“We’re committed to supporting and building capacity locally,” she said.