Sometimes the most innocuous moments can have the biggest impact on your career. In university, I reviewed a business case focused on former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Her drive, courage and willingness to take on the most daunting challenges as the only woman to ever hold that post have stayed with me and have inspired me long into my 25 years in the telecommunications industry.
Today, according to a study across 48 countries, Canada takes the top spot for the country with the most female leaders (50 per cent). That's certainly something to be proud of. I've been fortunate to spend the bulk of my career with a company that fosters a culture of leadership to drive innovation and productivity; empowers employees; and recognizes the importance of supporting the diverse needs of our team members. In fact, this week, the Women's Executive Network (WXN) released its list of Canada's Top 100 Most Powerful Women and I was honoured to be recognized along with my fellow colleagues Monique Mercier and Sandy McIntosh.
This accolade is a great reminder that with strong guiding principles, anyone can be successful in business and life. Here are the top three that guide me.
Follow your passions
I'm passionate about growing my skills and taking on new challenges. As such, I constantly push myself, both body and mind, to try new things. Most recently for example, I've taken on learning a new language - French - to expand my mind, and trail running to push my body to new limits. As a leader and mentor, I take a similar approach with my team. I focus on structuring, supporting and motivating my team to follow their passions and to leverage their diverse strengths and talents for each new challenge.
I'm equally passionate about my family as I am my work. As a mother, I've had barriers to overcome in balancing my desire to be successful at home and at work. One of my greatest achievements to date has been the implementation of a national program designed to provide employees with the flexibility to work from wherever they are the most productive. This program encourages self-management of time and careers while affording employees the ability to balance life's expectations. Now in its eighth year, 60 per cent of our company has the option of flexible work, with a goal of 70 per cent by 2015.
Certainly, no accomplishment comes without barriers, but I believe the key to long term success is putting yourself out there and following your passions. By following this principle, I was able to implement a program that essentially eliminated one of my barriers while helping fellow team members achieve balance in life and business as well.
If you asked my kids to pick one word that describes me they'd likely say "adventurous." I believe in taking risks and growing every day, in life and in business. I participate in outdoor adventures to spend time with my family, but also to learn more about myself when put in unfamiliar situations and environments. In business, I've always challenged myself by taking on new roles, in areas that I wasn't always familiar, to round out my skills and knowledge. Risks come in every form, and throughout your career taking risks could mean choosing lateral moves to learn new areas of your business or simply putting your hand up to take on new projects. Each one will broaden your skills and deepen your knowledge while getting you closer to reaching your full potential.
I encourage my team to take risks and collaborate more deeply. To further facilitate collaboration and innovation, I strive to create a platform for conversation by being approachable and exchanging ideas. I encourage my team to be bolder and reach higher. Risks however, don't come without some mistakes, but it's the tuition value of those mistakes that drives innovation. The opportunities that arise to learn, improve and grow are the tipping point of calculated risk. Having this courage to innovate can drive a realization that people actually have better judgment than what they think. We too often assume something will go wrong, or exaggerate the consequences.
Remain true to yourself
One of the reasons I think I've been successful is that I've worked at a company that has supported my ambition and has thrust me into new opportunities to push my boundaries and reach new heights. You'll quickly realize it if you're not aligned with a company that has similar values. A supportive corporate culture that embraces the needs of motivated individuals by providing an environment of constant challenge and change avoids running the risk of stagnation. I remained true to myself in that I knew I needed this type of environment to be successful. If you're a future female leader who wants to have it all, personally and professionally, look for a progressive corporate culture that supports leadership development, fosters innovation and encourages flexible work options so you can stay true to yourself - I truly can't imagine working any other way.
Although society seems to be shifting to accommodate the professional woman who also has a family, we still have a ways to go in engendering workplace cultures that value work-life balance. As you strive to achieve your goals, alignment with a company that enables self-managed work hours, provides exemplary benefits and, where possible, provides child care opportunities, will set you up to achieve greater success.
As a leader myself, I recognize that there's a need for more transparency about the challenges and barriers that women still face in advancing their careers. I seek out opportunities to step in and provide mentorship and programs that champion the pursuits of our young leaders and embrace their passions. It's only by recognizing the needs of our future female leaders and providing them with the support they need to remain true to themselves, we will build a stronger, more empowered and engaged workforce.