Opinion | Shaking the boardroom table: How I went from being a high school student to corporate vice president in a day

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famous said Justice is about “making sure that you are polite does not mean that you are calm. In fact, often the best thing you can do is shake the table.”

As young women and girls, sometimes we don’t even get the chance to sit at that table. So I knew I had to “change things up” when I found out that applications are open for the girls’ driving program called Girls belong here.

Girls Belong Here is a long-term program run by Plan International Canada that creates a space for young women to prove that we belong wherever we aspire to be. This is accomplished through leaders in high-level positions who share their seats with young leaders and give us the platform to amplify and share our stories, perspectives, and solutions.

Upon acceptance, I was selected to enter the role of Hilary Lloyd, North American Vice President of Marketing and Activity at The Body Shop, due to my own work in animal and climate activism. I was happy to start working with her and her team to bring my unique view of their business, but I knew it wasn’t a one-way street. I was expecting to glimpse the professional journeys of my leaders, as well as gain insight into the issues I am passionate about. Looking back, I certainly achieved these goals, but what I gained from this experience was even more profound.

As young people, we are a big part of the future, so we have to play a big role in shaping it. This means that we have access to meaningful opportunities to share our solutions and our perspectives in a space where they will be considered and implemented. But that doesn’t happen – in fact, we don’t have much say in policies on the issues that will affect us the most. This needs to change, which is exactly why experiences like Girls Belong Here are needed.

During my many calls with Hillary and her team, I have seen firsthand the value they give of what program participants have to say. They listened to our concerns and wanted to develop ways to address them as a business. This makes me believe that we can create a world in which more young people participate in decision-making, if more organizations participate in programs like this.

Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. Sometimes young women looking for mentorship don’t know where to start, which in my opinion can largely be attributed to a lack of role models and inspiration.

Take a moment and imagine the CEO. Who comes to mind?

According to a 2019 survey by Plan International Canada, only 10 percent of young Canadians picture a woman when they think of a CEO.

This is scary and unsurprising. The lack of representation and role models frustrates young women who want to enter a particular field, but don’t know who to look for as an example of how to get there. My time working with so many amazing and wonderful women has not only expanded my view of what is possible in my future, but has also shown me the importance of working towards greater representation for women and inspiring girls everywhere.

But what would have been my biggest gain from this program is from a personal point of view. I experienced what it means to be a leader and a more confident person. You’ve learned the value of making yourself heard, as well as the need to find and act on what matters to you. On the flip side, I’ve taken off the importance of listening to others, considering their perspectives and uniting to inspire change.

My biggest benefit was this: No matter how you make decisions that will affect the future, make sure you don’t neglect the voices of young women. We are here and we are not afraid to shake the table.

Ryan Feinberg He is a high school student in Toronto.


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