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(L-R) Lindsey DELUCE’99, Deputy Principal Karrie Weinstock, Andrea STAIRS’93 and Katie McCABE’03.
March 22, 2013
A Champion Is In All of Us!
It’s not very often when a speaker panel becomes a therapy session for the audience, but it appears to have done so at the Branksome Hall Alumnae Association Women in Leadership event held March 5, 2013. Three panelists, all from distinct backgrounds and industries, opened up with stories about their lives and experiences to an intimate group of 30 women, and the evening was a tremendous success.

Moderator Lindsey DELUCE’99, news anchor with CP24 Breakfast and Morning News, led the discussion. Ania RUSSOCKI Lindenbergs’88, Senior Executive Director, Advancement Communications and Marketing at the University of Toronto, provided an opening statement that set the audience at ease. She began by stating that a linear career is unnatural, and that she feels her life has been like a series of chapters. More women reassess, change, and return to the workforce than men, by “leapfrogging”, starting over, or taking a few steps back. Our decisions are shaped by our experiences, each impacting the next.

Sarah WILEY’84, the Executive Director of Outward Bound Canada, felt Branksome was where her journey began. The community and relationships she formed while in school are still those she relies on today. Her love of travel also came into play, as she said to chuckles from the audience, when she found her passion in Kathmandu. Sometimes you have to step away from it all to get the full perspective.

Andrea STAIRS’93, Country Manager at eBay Canada, joked about eating Lean Cuisine at 11:00 p.m. in her bed and calling that “the best time of my day,” before realizing she was headed in the wrong direction career-wise. A thirst for challenges and a need to accomplish something most women wouldn’t dream of in two lifetimes led Andrea to switch from a major in industrial relations to medieval history, before entering a career in finance and then marketing.

One commonality between the panelists was their perception towards their male counterparts. For them, it was always about moving forward despite the glaring “gender” elephant in the room.

Andrea was usually one of two women with eight men around the table and Ania remembered when she was sharing personal problems and hurdles with a table full of men. These moments of honesty are those which Ania admitted were key factors for success. “I never felt like a woman in business, but a person in business,” she explains, by leveling the playing field.

A particularly touching moment came when Ania fondly remembered her mother, who passed away at the young age of 43. Her mother was a woman who was constantly on the go. Realizing she is now at an age approaching that of her mother’s passing is powerful for Ania.

With the realization that packing too much into your life isn’t a measure of success, the idea of balance surfaced. When life interjects, there are moments, explained Sarah, when your inner voice steps in to impact your work choices. Sarah’s captivating story about adopting a son at 44 and returning to work two days after the adoption struck a few chords in the room, and needless to say, in her life as well. She explained the judgment she faced, primarily from women, for her decision to “miss out” on her son’s infancy. Similar to key female figures in business today like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who missed only two weeks of work after giving birth, being a mother or a career woman seems to be a “take one, leave one” decision. The choices women make are full of repercussions and those often include the negative and positive feedback from fellow women. Not once did anyone mention a man’s perspective on her decision.

Taking your foot off the pedal: what does it mean to women in the workplace? Andrea, who is expecting baby number two, felt that there are moments in one’s career when the foot is on and when the foot is off. Giving your all at work seems like something most people strive to do every day, and something employers expect of you 24/7. But, to Andrea, it’s not possible to be going 100km/h 24/7. Ania, although understanding, counteracted with a very common notion that as long as your foot is off the pedal, your competitors are accelerating past you.

We live in an age of competition, but also in an age where people tell you to slow down. Ania discussed the control she has taken over her own career schedule, and her ability to forward calls to her home, or simply to take time for herself. All are extremely valuable decisions that only you can make, despite facing judgment. As Ania explained, you have to find the answer yourself, you always had it, you just have to stop relying on external sources to confirm it.

Back to balance, how do you find it? Ania explained how balance is a daily effort. You have a few priorities every day and you choose what you can tackle that day. The next day, balance shifts, but it means you are still in control.

Sarah finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. She admitted that life can be mundane and not always adventurous. The solution is to take risks, motivate others around you, and don’t micromanage—let people make mistakes.

We all need a champion, the panelists agreed—someone who will listen to our goals and advocate for us in the workplace. However, when it’s time to ask for more money, or lobby for a promotion, or find balance in the daily grind, or simply to push back when life changes gears, the best place to find that champion is to start with yourself.

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