Lessons from the 20th AWF PEAK Awards

Last night, I had the honour of attending the 20th Association of Women in Finance (AWF)’s PEAK Awards at the UBC Sauder School of Business table. I was the only guest under nineteen and not yet a working professional! The attendees were insightful, the award recipients were great speakers, and the dinner was delicious!

I learned many lessons that evening.

Coming into the wine reception, I was nursing a glass of ice water which made my hands wet with condensation… please do not make my mistake. If you will drink water, get a lukewarm glass or a wine glass with a stem.

After standing alone for a solid minute in sheer panic and hesitation, I shyly smiled at two friendly women who were a UBC alumni and a manager from Grant Thornton. Thankfully, they were graceful and kind to share about their careers. The manager’s story on teaching high school math while taking a break from accounting stuck out to me the most. When she shared this, I asked if she ever regrets her choice, but she shared the following thought with me.

No experience, no matter how “irrelevant”, is a bad career move. You can only learn more skills and perspectives that add to your abilities.

This is an important message to internalise. Too often in business school, we as students feel completely defeated if we don’t have The Right Position™ or The Right Internship™. Though prestige and networks are important to an extent, how much your role can bring you to success still depends on what you make of it. Do you take initiative? Do you show commitment? Do you go beyond your requirements? Those are good questions to ask and see if you’re really taking advantage of your current opportunities.

After the wine reception, it was time for dinner. Though food is my true love, the award recipients’ stole my heart. The award presenters shared heartwarming tales of their friendships with the recipients, and the recipients shared interesting stories and advice to young women in finance.

The lifetime achievement recipient, Geri Prior, had plentiful advice from a life well lived, but this truth stuck out to me in particular, especially hearing her story of taking on the role of CFO and later CEO at ICBC.

If you are scared and lack confidence when an opportunity arises, take the opportunity anyway and ask for help when needed.

Taking opportunities even when you don’t feel completely prepared hit home because I thought of all the opportunities I had passed up because I did not think I could learn the skills to succeed!

A few weeks ago at the first CUS Board of Directors meeting, I passed the opportunity to be a Vice-Chairperson despite Daphne, our president, nominating me. I hadn’t believed that I could learn Roberts’ Rules. She even told me that she wasn’t prepared going into the role but just quickly learned the rules after a few meetings. But back then, I still did not have the confidence to even try.

Though the decision appears minor, I felt immense regret after I declined because the decision didn’t align with my value of growth or open-mindedness…

During the closing remarks for the evening, Norma Reid asked us all to reflect on how much has changed in the past twenty years for women in finance. As the room fell silent with reflection, I felt floored. All of these men and women around me went beyond what they imagined was possible, thrived through rejections, chased visions that seemed impractical… so that young women like me could so easily pick the “finance” option for our degree.

Norma then asked what would twenty years into the future look like? No longer needing this discussion. Women also involved in board and committees. Parents of all genders having support to raise a family while being a working professional.

The evening inspired me to dream big. To take on opportunities even when you aren’t 100% prepared, but be 100% ready to learn and ask for help. 

That’s what these glass-ceiling breaking professionals have done, and what we must do as the future generation.

(Just so things are clear, ready to learn means researching about the opportunity and understanding what you can bring to the table! Don’t ever enter an interview without researching!)



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