Hamilton is very fortunate to have so many dedicated and inspiring young professionals (YP) living and working in our city. These individuals are creating, contributing, and collaborating; they are making change and, ultimately, a lasting impact.
At Hamilton HIVE, we recognize that young professionals are a crucial part of Hamilton’s ever-changing landscape. We admire them for their continual efforts and believe they deserve recognition for this. We spotlight a different YP each month so Hamilton can celebrate with us. In honour of this women’s issue, we are spotlighting a few females in the HIVE community to share their advice and experience.
The women interviewed are:
Alyssa Lai (Digital Marketing Coordinator, Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation and Past Chair of Hamilton HIVE);
Elizabeth Thorsen (Senior Events and Marketing Manager, Innovation Factory);
Erin Dunham (CEO, The Other Bird Inc.);
May-Marie Duwai-Sowa (Employment Equity Specialist, Human Resources Services Department, McMaster University); and
Tammy Hwang (Business Development Officer – Global Hamilton, City of Hamilton and Co-Founder/CEO, CoMotion Group Inc.).
Q: What advice would you give to female YPs looking to either start their own business or get ahead in the industry they’re in?
Alyssa: Do your research and be deliberate when talking to people and seeking assistance. Asking thoughtful questions and knowing what your goals are will help you narrow your focus and decide what you need in order to thrive in your profession. Most importantly, be genuine. When you are making new connections, focus on learning and understanding without passing judgment. Build your own personal database of contacts and make notes of the people that you have met. It could be their personal stories, hobbies or the intricacies of their job – whatever it is, remember that relationship-building takes time, effort and sincerity.
Elizabeth: Take advantage of every opportunity to sell yourself. I work with entrepreneurs for a living, and I notice a lot of gender-based differences in how male vs. female entrepreneurs approach things like validating their business ideas, asking for guidance and mentorship, sales, and funding. Be assertive! Take every chance you get to ask for help, introductions to potential supporters or customers, and make sure you present yourself as an expert in your field.
Erin: My advice is always the same to all YPs looking to start their own business. Dive in and take the chance to start up your own business, the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll fail, and that’s okay. Every failure is just a lesson learned for the next business. Just do it.
May-Marie: Research trends, best practices and growth potential of the business or industry you wish to pursue, so you can acquire the appropriate skills, knowledge and information necessary to position yourself for success.
Tammy: Starting a business is really about finding a problem that you’re passionate about solving. Sometimes you’ll know exactly how to solve that problem, and other times you’re not so sure, but if you’re passionate about the problem, solutions will come to you. Then it’s about finding the motivation to continue to solve that problem every day. Eventually you’ll be the expert problem solver for that particular problem which will set you apart from the competition.
Q: What’s your favourite personal/professional development book – the go-to that you always recommend to other YP ladies?
Alyssa: Our Turn by Kirstine Stewart. It’s a helpful book for young women who are looking to grow and take on leadership and executive roles. The book offers a unique perspective on how to build confidence and credibility as a woman.
Elizabeth: Grit by Angela Duckworth. An inspiring novel about the importance of perseverance, even more than natural talent or education. It’s a great reminder to give 100% to your goals, and stay inspired in the face of small setbacks.
Erin: Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.
May-Marie: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey.
Tammy: Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts. Through reading this I learned a lot about how people love brands, brand experiences and it has influenced me to treat my customers and create experiences that will leave lasting impressions.
Q: What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your career and how did you overcome it?
Alyssa: It took me awhile to fully understand what I am capable of doing in a set time frame. This means having a clear expectation of how much exactly I can take on and whether I can deliver the work successfully. It was (and still is) a humbling experience, as I learn to manage my energy level, time and effort, recognizing that I cannot do it all. I’ve learned to flow between work and play, with no set restrictions or hours on both, but always striving to remain grounded. The formula that works for me: reflect, exercise, work hard, enjoy life and sleep well.
Elizabeth: The biggest hurdle was getting out of the mindset that if I work hard, people will notice and I’ll be rewarded. I thought my performance would speak for itself and I used to get frustrated when I wasn’t progressing in my career as quickly as I would have liked. With a bit more experience professionally – and some strong mentorship by an incredible woman who is my business idol – I learned to shift my mindset and ask for what I want. Your boss isn’t going to promote you just because you deserve it, even if you’re the best person at the job. You need to ask for what you want and back it up with facts and actions that support your case.
Erin: The biggest hurdle for me in my career was trying to care as much about my personal life and health as I do about work. Trying to find balance in life when your job is your baby is hard to do. The only way to overcome it (which is still a work in progress) is to force it and trust the people who work with me.
May-Marie: The biggest hurdle I face is maintaining a work life balance and taking time to relax and rejuvenate. Now I try to be very intentional in the projects I undertake and make sure to really carve out time for myself and my family. Especially because I find my passion and energy waning over time if I don’t stop and self-reflect on a regular basis.
Tammy: Being proud and calling myself a generalist. So many people nowadays feel like they have to go to school to get additional schooling and become an “expert” in something in order to be employable. I almost fell into that trap until I found out that I’m super valuable in my experiences, my network, and trusting my abilities. Don’t discount your previous experience – acknowledge that all your experience has made you who you are today and you have transferable skills to bring to the table that can help build businesses and success in organizations.
Cassandra is a born-and-raised Hamiltonian. She works at the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce as a Project Manager, implementing Magnet in Hamilton. She is a proud alumna of the Communications & Multimedia program at McMaster. She loves rap/hip-hop, vintage clothing, and watercolour painting.