Finding Your Community: Shannon Foster creates the BCWiT Social Group to connect with women in technology in Metro Vancouver
During her studies at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, Shannon Foster felt a sense of camaraderie with her peers, relying on each other for support, and developing lasting friendships. After graduation, and a period of time working in Prince George, Foster and her partner moved back to their hometown of Vancouver for opportunities in their fields. While each move was brought exciting change, she missed the connections she had made, many of whom had stayed on Vancouver Island.
Working as a technologist, and being a woman, Foster found it challenging to find mentors in her field, people who could empathize with her experience, but also provide support and advice as she advanced her career. Determined to change that, she made the decision to step out of her comfort zone and take matters into her own hands.
“I saw the network he had, and I wanted that for myself.”
Foster’s partner, Daniel Sturgeon, is a planner as well as a member of the Planning Institute of BC (PIBC), and she often accompanied him to the Institute’s various networking and social events. After a handful of occasions, she began to see the broad community Sturgeon enjoyed – like-minded colleagues able to share similar experiences, knowledge and advice.
“I saw the network he had, and I wanted that for myself,” Foster admitted. As a member herself of the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC), she sought out to find peers in her field to connect with. However, as a still largely male-dominated profession, she found it hard to find anyone she identified with. “It’s hard to seek out support when you don’t see anyone that looks like you.”
Fortunately, around the same time, Foster was invited to join the council for the BC Women in Technology (BCWiT), a group of women who are members of ASTTBC, representing a variety of disciplines in the technology field, and working to provide role models and resources for women looking at a career in technology. It was a step in the right direction to Foster finding that network she craved.
Setting aside anxiety to meet people like her
As a council member, Foster attended several meetings, learning more about how BCWiT was reaching out to fellow female technologists and technicians. She discovered a network spanning across the province, and felt privileged to have access to such a diverse group of professionals. However, while being a council member was a rewarding experience, she was still having trouble meeting up with women locally in Metro Vancouver – people with shared experiences whom she could meet up with in person.
A naturally reserved person, Foster realized that the only person that could change that would be her, and, despite her own anxiety, proposed to BCWiT to start a network in the Vancouver area, that would meet up on a fairly regular basis.
“The people I spoke to were very encouraging, but they advised me not to get too emotionally invested in the idea,” Foster explained. In a demanding field, free time is a valuable commodity, and her peers wanted her to be prepared for a low turn out. Still, she forged ahead, hoping for the best.
“I sensed that this was something people really wanted.”
In June, holding onto the sense that everything would come together, Foster organized the first BCWiT Social at a pub in Vancouver. The event drew a small crowd, with five women in attendance, including Foster.
“At first I was a little disappointed,” Foster confessed. “But I realized that the small group made it more successful because everyone was more comfortable.” More at ease sharing with an intimate group, they discussed everything from where they work, the challenges they’ve experienced in the field, as well as who they were as individuals, not just technologists. Overall, everyone thought the event was a success, leaving with the feeling that their network just got a little bit bigger.
“After the event, I sensed that this was something people really wanted,” said Foster. In fact, she received a number of requests for a second event. Encouraged, she organized a fall social in September, this time held in Surrey to make it easier those not living in Vancouver to attend. This fall social drew a few of the women from the first event, but also a number of new faces, and the group also increased to a total of twenty women, leaving Foster with the impression that this was just the start of something even bigger.
“There’s an amazing sense of energy!”
Since the fall event, Foster has received a number of inquiries about growing the event. Some members of the network have also taken the initiative themselves to help expand the network, excited by the possibilities. One participant is looking at organizing an outreach effort at upcoming conferences, and others are organizing presentations for young girls’ groups like the Girl Guides.
Most notably, the group has connected with BCIT’s Women in Engineering Club to extend the invitation to their students and hopefully encourage the next generation of women to join the profession. In the meantime, Foster is already planning the next meet-up, likely for February 2017.
After some determination, Foster has achieved exactly what she set out to do, finding her very own community of peers. At the same time, she in providing women with similar aspiration an avenue to find like-minded people and feel a sense of belonging. “There’s an amazing sense of energy, and I’m so excited about how things will evolve in the future!”
Are you interested in learning more about the BCWiT Socials? Check out the ASTTBC Events Page for updates, keep an eye out for the Facebook Group pages (coming soon), or contact Shannon Foster directly:
Shannon is a Civil Engineering Technologist in our Vancouver office. She is a certified Applied Science Technologist and is actively involved in promoting the field of civil engineering technology to young women, and supporting the development of a network of female technologists across the Lower Mainland through BC Women in Technology (BCWiT).