By Shelley White
When it comes to women’s work-life balance, Mary Ann Turcke wants to change the conversation.
It shouldn’t be about “women having it all,” it should be about “families having it all,” says Mary Ann, president of Bell Media and one of Canada’s most influential leaders.
“Balance for me is my whole family’s balance,” she says. “No matter who you define as your family, everybody [in that family] has to ‘have it all.’ And in the workplace, we need to be asking, ‘How do we get better at helping everyone spend time the way they need to when their loved ones are in need?’ It ought not to be a women’s issue.”
As the head of a multimedia giant, Mary Ann is an example of just how high women can rise in the workplace. An engineer by trade, she began her career as a district manager for the Ministry of Transportation in her hometown of Kingston, Ontario, working in highway operations. A move to Toronto and a series of management positions in the private sector followed, until she joined Bell Canada in 2005. At Bell, Mary Ann took on executive positions in customer experience, operations, and sales before landing the top job in 2015.
It has been an enviable career path, but Mary Ann vividly remembers when her two children were young and juggling work and home life was a challenge.
“My husband and I both struggled. I remember many days, waking up and one kid is sick and they have to go to the doctor and us shooting ‘rock-paper-scissors’ to see who will take them,” she recalls. “It was tough, very tough, but we somehow managed.”
“Balance for me is my whole family’s balance,” she says. “No matter who you define as your family, everybody [in that family] has to ‘have it all.’”
By working together and being open about what they needed, Mary Ann says she and her husband were able to balance those work-life challenges. She also wasn’t afraid to “make the ask” at work when it came to important moments with her kids.
“I managed to find the pockets, where if I really wanted to do something, whether it was to go to school to watch a volleyball game or driving home from school with my kids, I made sure I did it,” she says. “I didn’t do it all the time, but I made sure I got to do those things and I worked for people who were very, very supportive of that.”
As her children have grown, Mary Ann says that openness has continued to be a vital part of keeping their family balance in check.
“I have a 21-year-old and a 16-year-old — two girls — and when they want me at something, they are open about that,” she says. “When we need each other, we make the time to be with one another.”
Mary Ann says that her children have also come to recognize that they enjoy certain benefits of having top executives for parents (her husband is Gordon Mcilquham, senior vice-president at Shaftsbury Films Inc.) and understand the trade-offs they’ve all made.
“For my kids, the trade-off was, if your health card is expired, you figure out how to take the subway down to Service Ontario and fix it. If you forgot your lunch at home, don’t do it again tomorrow, you’re only going to be hungry,” says Mary Ann. “We’ve had help and caregivers which obviously eases things on the home front, but I think they’ve ended up being quite independent and confident in what they want to pursue.”
When her family spends time together, they make it count, says Mary Ann. One of the special activities they enjoy together is sailing.
“We get on a sailboat, we depart the whole world and we have a great old time,” she says. “We’ve done everything from pretty intensive racing as a family to cruising in the Caribbean. There’s a lot of time on the boat where you’re not in connectivity with the world, so it’s fantastic.”
She has this advice for families trying to “have it all”: Find your own balance.
“What people want in their own heart in terms of spending more time at home or at work, it’s different,” she says. “One family’s balance isn’t another’s.”
We’ve partnered with Ricoh in engaging our community in important discussions about the advancement of women, focusing on “having it all.” How you define it, what factors enable you to achieve it, and how you have worked differently to meet your goals. Ricoh is a global technology company specializing in office imaging equipment, production print solutions, document management systems and IT services.