Ally Klassen
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It’s International Women’s Day and that is a serious cause for celebration! The day is intended to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality. In the past year at Mission Possible, we’ve taken major steps towards making MP a more equitable and accessible space in regards to gender. Our biggest achievement has been the start of our Women’s Track within our signature Employment Readiness Program.

To understand why this is such a big deal, let’s take a look at the opportunity. Now at Mission Possible, women have the option of completing the Employment Readiness Program in a co-ed or in a women’s only environment. That means information sessions, workshops, coaching, and the actual shifts will be facilitated by women who really care. This program is designed by and for women to address barriers that women face in entering or reentering the workforce. And, of course, this program is transgender inclusive. In addition to trans women, people who do not identify as a binary gender but would feel more comfortable in a “women’s only” or non-male environment are welcome to join!

At Mission Possible, we’re always looking for ways to improve, and part of that means taking seriously feedback that we receive. We are honoured that fellow community organizations and even program participants felt able to express to us how they thought we could do better. Some of this feedback posed the question of why there were so few women who took our Employment Readiness Program. Part of this answer is simply the demographics of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in which we work- the DTES has a higher proportion of adult males than in other parts of Vancouver. However, we also thought about how this high volume of male participants might be a barrier in itself for women who are ready to start working, but due to any number of reasons, are not comfortable working in this type of environment.

To start the Women’s Track project, we gathered information. A lot of it. From interviewing Employment Readiness Program participants, partnering organizations, to other organizations in the DTES, we found out what we needed to know in order to make this program a success. We also gauged what the interest levels might be, and we were pleasantly surprised when some women’s-only organizations expressed that they would be happy to begin partnering with us- something that wasn’t possible when we ran an exclusively co-ed program.

After we determined that there was a definite need for this program, we had to raise the funds necessary to get it off the ground. This prompted our development team to work hard behind-the-scenes to raise awareness, reach out to foundations and donors, and ensure that the Women’s Track had the resources that were needed to launch.

With much of the administrative and logistical work in progress, we were ready to share the goodness in our community! Our diligent Cohesion Specialist, Jess, took on new responsibilities: reaching out to many organizations to run information sessions, becoming the main point of contact for individuals, and facilitating women’s only Employment Readiness Workshops. Jess’ expertise in working with the original Employment Readiness Program, as well as her academic background in Psychology and experience working with women with disabilities has brought a special touch to the Women’s Track. Another key player, Holly, is a seasoned professional at Mission Possible and her genuine warmth and compassion makes her a perfect fit to be the on-the-job supervisor for the Women’s Track. She has been working hard facilitating the women’s only work orientations and going out on shifts day-to-day with our new associates.

Mission Possible has always sought to address barriers to employment, however with the implementation of the Women’s Track, we’re doing even more. Many women face unique barriers- often related to family responsibilities and domestic labour. To address this, Mission Possible offers supreme flexibility in order to accommodate women's busy lives and kind, understanding staff who react with empathy. We are working towards doing even more, hoping to address issues such as childcare and housing in the future. The women who participate in our program can expect a personal approach and individual attention in order to tailor the program to their needs. The Employment Readiness Program is supportive and compassionate; because of the open and safe environment, women may find they can dive deeper into some personal growth.

To close, we asked Jess to sum up the most rewarding part of the launch of the Women’s Track so far. She shares with us:

 “My favourite part is the atmosphere of having a group of women together. I’ve seen many times how supportive women are to each other. Even if this program isn’t what they are looking for, they always know someone they want to tell, and are always thinking of other people. The other part is that in workshops, it is more quickly a supportive space. I think just having only women makes it more comfortable to be who we are and to let our emotions be present- there’s more openness. I have experiences where it might feel otherwise like you’re being labeled as “too emotional” or “too sensitive”, but in a women only group it’s more accepted. I think the women feel less stigmatized and stereotyped. 

Though I do want to say to women who want to do the women’s track, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they hate men or that they need to have huge traumas to qualify, because it can be for anyone who feels more comfortable and supported in that environment. Overall, I’m just really excited to see more women in our program, to get the word out about who we are and about our program, and to make our program more accessible to different people.”