Student Spotlight, Johanna Kuffner: Working on Equality, Changing the Conversation

Johanna Kuffner by Elin Molenaar
Johanna Kuffner by Elin Molenaar

The idea of success, particularly success in the world of business, has often been focused on men. Even as women continue to break barriers, new challenges continue to arise.

 

Johanna is a leader on campus and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and opportunities. In her education, her work, and her activism, Johanna strives to always put women first. Johanna does not shun opportunities to work with men; however, she puts women in the spotlight first and helps them climb higher in the business world whenever she can because she’s seen how prominent the gender disparity in business still exists.

 

That desire was primarily inspired by Johanna’s mother and the business that she ran. Johanna says that her mother’s example gave her an advantage as she started to pursue a career in the private sector because she never saw her gender as a barrier to success in the same way that other young women experience in their youth. Unfortunately, as her career has progressed, she has seen more of the ingrained sexism and male favouritism in many workplaces. “I didn’t realize the weight of still how male-dominated the business industry is.”

 

Her journey has had ups and downs, marked by incredible opportunities and painful setbacks that have moulded and fed into her passion for female empowerment.

Johanna grew up as a competitive dancer. When she danced, the instructors put a considerable emphasis on appearance: “They’re very focused on how you look, what you could fit into, what size you were, what shape. So, I grew up with that always being in the back of my mind.” It put her in a mindset later in life where she was overly focused on her image. As she matured, she found acceptance is the key, especially having an attitude where you do not punish yourself for how you think you look or being too busy to work out. She has let go of that struggle but says the doubt can still creep back in and that it’s okay so long as you can bring yourself back to a healthy mindset.  She adds that it took a period of self-reflection to get her there. “I have had to teach myself that physical and mental health are different, and I have to care for them in different ways.”

 

Johanna did not come straight to BCIT from high school. Initially, on a nursing career path, she went into the entrepreneurship program following a trip to Africa and eventually specialized in marketing. “I felt like every day was essentially the same. I just didn’t feel like it would be fulfilling for the rest of my life.” She worked odd jobs until landing a small company position as a receptionist and eventually became the office manager. “I had no experience, but I decided to try. I just realized that was my passion.” Johanna said those experiences led to her joining the entrepreneurship program and pursuing her dream of eventually owning her own business.

 

When Johanna decided to go back to school, she wanted to make sure she gave it her all, no matter what she did. When she heard about Young Women in Business (YWiB), she knew she wanted to be involved as it combined her passion for women’s empowerment and advanced her leadership skills outside her comfort zone. Johanna applied and was chosen as the first year representative, using the position to prepare and run for the organization’s presidency. Johanna said that she was prouder of the work she did in YWiB than any other job she had done in her life because of the support and opportunities that it has created for other young women. By taking on this leadership position in our community, Johanna said it allowed her to be more than just her courses, showing what she was capable beyond just what she learned.

 

While Johanna was excited about the opportunities opening for her and other women through YWiB, she made it clear that our societal gender norms often push woman out of contention for better pay and promotions. “There’s this idea that if a couple has kids that the woman stays home and the guy goes to work, and that is changing, but there’s still an expectation that women stay home, and I just can’t wrap my brain around it.” She saw progress in men choosing to stay home, allowing it to become closer to an equal situation. “If a man and a woman are competing for a position and the man is truly more qualified, totally fine by me if they hire the man.”

 

Despite the pandemic, Johanna has made sure she has found time for herself, her friends, and her loved ones. “School can be a lot, COVID can be a lot, life right now can be a lot, and I think sometimes we can, at least I do, focus on the restrictions a lot, and life has changed so much, and it sucks. But I think it is also like taking a step back and being this is where we are, and it’s not up to us, so how do we now adapt, and how do we take care of ourselves?”

It is hard for young men to appreciate the depth of their advantage in achieving business success. For women, it is often a windier road with more obstacles.

 

In the aftermath of our year of change, through the rebirth and rebuilding of our economy, there is an opportunity to make way for more women in business, not merely because it is right, but because they have earned it. With young leaders like Johanna and the Young Women in Business Society, BCIT’s student body continues to work against past inequities in business and offers our communities exceptionally qualified business leaders.

 

BCIT is a place where people come to advance their skills and destroy obstacles in their life. While the education and accreditation students receive can be helpful, the connections and opportunities they create are often an essential element of our student life.