As an influential figure in the Canadian business landscape, Mary Ann is committed to helping talented women advance in her organization, because she recognizes there are too few women at the top levels of leadership in the country. Although she says that she never felt overt discrimination in her career, she adds “I think a lot of gender discrimination happens when you’re not in the room.” Mary Ann believes it’s important to show women that they can, and should, aspire to the highest levels of achievement.
“I think that getting women into executive positions starts when you recognize top performers in middle management,” she says. “In a lot of organizations, women look up and they don’t see many women and they think it just doesn’t happen. They get intimidated, they self-select out of the corporation, out of working altogether, so when you have high performers, you have to really support them and give them the confidence that they can do it.”
At the same time, women hoping to rise in the ranks can’t be afraid to pursue opportunities vigorously, says Mary Ann. “You can’t underestimate the amount of lobbying your peers are doing, whether it’s men or women.”
It’s essential to create an informal network of support within the organization by seeking out guidance and advice from superiors you respect, she says. Then take opportunities to work with them, in order to build a critical mass of senior people who have seen what you can do.
“Then when the executive team is talking about talent, you’ve got two or three people saying, ‘She worked with me and it was amazing.’ That’s how it happens,” she adds.
In looking at at her own career success, Mary Ann says she attributes it to hard work, resilience, perseverance and always being willing to take a risk.
“I never felt mortgaged to a job, or tied to a job, I always felt somewhat like a free agent,” she says. “If I felt like I could be accomplishing more, not in terms of financial means, but having more fun or learning more somewhere else, then I did that. And I learned a lot along the way.”