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Executive Women in the Workplace

Happy International Women’s Day!

Back in the day, banking was notoriously known for being an old boys club. In today’s market it is an industry dominated almost entirely by women except when it comes to senior level executive positions; however, this is not the case at Integris!

“I’ve always been surprised how women were not chosen for Executive positions in Credit Unions. It’s old banking and unfortunately it still exists. BC is breaking this trend and has led the way with Tamara Vrooman, Kathy Conway, Launi Skinner and previously Tracy Geddes to name a few” says David Bird, President & CEO of Integris. He continues “I promote quality and talented individuals without factoring in gender. We have an amazing group of women in our organization leading staff.”

The Integris Executive Management team at Integris consists of three men and four women. This trend of women outnumbering men is not only seen in the Executive team, but also in mid level management – there are a total of twenty-two female (and seven male) mid level management staff.

The 2017 International Women’s Day theme is #BeBoldForChange and we asked the women of our Executive Management Team to share their stories, advice and perspectives on Women in leadership roles in the workplace. Here are their stories.

Alison Hoskins, Vice President, Strategy and Finance

I have been a CPA (CA) for eighteen years and have spent half my career in public practice accounting and half working at Integris. My success is attributable to critical thinking and analytical skills that my education fostered, but even more so to an ability to identify with people around me, hear a message from their perspective and make sure that they understand the content and intent – I believe in people.

I believe that organizations need to have the best people in the right roles regardless of what gender they happen to be. It is our job as leaders to champion ourselves and the up and coming leaders in our organizations to make sure that there aren’t gender specific barriers.

Men typically don’t question their abilities to accomplish something – they believe they can do something and they do it, whereas us women, we seem to need to prove it to ourselves first, before we believe in ourselves. That process takes a lot longer – in the end we can and we do – just the seats on the bus filled up while we were proving things to ourselves. As more and more women fill leadership roles and become role models for other women, hopefully that self-doubt that slows us down will go away.

One piece of advice I would give to women in leadership roles is to be honest in your struggles and real in the face that you put to your community of women. As women, we tend to put tremendous pressures on ourselves about what we should be capable of “handling” and we do no favors to ourselves, our colleagues, and fellow working women by pretending it is easy and we have it all together all the time!

Here’s my top five tips for succeeding in the workplace:

  1. Find champions in both the men and the women in your organizations.
  2. Seek mentors that will help you have a voice and be heard.
  3. Have boundaries and be uncompromising in your values.
  4. Remember that there is a ‘no’ attached to every ‘yes’.
  5. Make sure you say ‘yes’ to the right things.

Brenda Astorino, Vice President, Operations

The business world was part of my upbringing. After graduation I took a business admin course at Okanagan College, I found myself working in the Building Supply Industry working on receivables/payables which led well into the financial services industry. With almost thirty years in the credit union system, I started out in the lending department and moved up in the organization through various roles including Lender, Branch Manager, Multi-Branch Manager, Project Manager and finally, Executive Manager.

My mother was an equal partner with my father in their business. She was the strongest woman I have ever met and was always a strong voice in both the business and our family. When you realize this was in the 60’s and 70’s, she truly was a leader in a time where it wasn’t the norm. I grew up not knowing anything different than women and men being equal.

Strength in a team is built on diversity. Whether that diversity comes from gender, knowledge/expertise, age or wisdom, I truly believe that a more diverse team is a stronger team. I am proud to be a part of a very diverse executive team that is stronger together.

One of the biggest challenges faced by executive women is the acceptance of a work/life balance. Women still struggle to achieve equality in the home, causing a work life balance to be a struggle at times. There’s this idea that work and life are at odds with each other but as women, we can get the job done while recognizing that family and friends are equally important.

If I could share one piece of advice it would be this:

Anything is possible if you want it. Find a mentor. Grow. Be strong and keep learning! Lifelong learning is the key to continue growing as a person and a future executive.

Linda Haworth, Assistant Vice President, Systems and Member Integration

I’ve always loved math, biology and physics and when I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian. To be a vet would have meant seven more years of school, which wasn’t an issue, however, I knew my parents would wanted to pay for that schooling. My father was the only one who worked in the family and I knew he wanted to retire so I didn’t want to burden them with that type of financial commitment. Instead, I decided to study nursing. Needless to say it wasn’t for me and I soon found myself working as a teller at a small credit union. I’ve now been in the financial services industry for thirty years.

The one thing about the financial services sector is that industry experience and educational experience are interchangeable. Both are nice but most of my educational experience I received after I started working for Integris. And it wasn’t all formal education – it was really just reading and investigating to meet an organizational need. All this goes with saying that these days, the industry changes so fast. Staff need to know so much more just to keep up with the ever changing regulatory requirements.

When it comes to female leadership and equal representation in the workplace I don’t think one gender should be given preference over another – it should fall to who is the best candidate. It’s nice to see when qualified individuals are rewarded for their hard work and dedication but we also have to understand reverse discrimination can occur if you try to force equal representation.

As a female in a male executive dominated industry, there will always be challenges. Mainly having opinions taken seriously, or having those outside the organization realize you have the authority to make decisions. I still remember many years ago working at one of our small branches, the staff were all women, including the manager and there was one man. A member came in and wanted to talk to the branch manager and pointed to the only male.

To succeed in business, especially if you are aiming for those male dominated executive positions, the best advice I can give is this:

“Believe in yourself. Work hard. Learn all you can and don’t give up.”

Rita Harder, Chief Human Resources Officer

As a Human Resources professional, understanding the basics of labour law, human rights, and people management are just the foundation. The real learning comes from working in the field. I’ve been in Human Resources for over twenty-nine years working at strengthening Integris as an employer, creating a culture where our people are thoroughly engaged, and love coming to work.

In many organizations there’s still this mentality that it’s an ‘old boys network’. Men tend to have more social networks and friendships and are comfortable in male dominated settings. Articles are still stating how underrepresented women are on Boards and in executive positions and breaking into a male dominated environment makes men realize that women can contribute.

I believe, similar to what research suggests, that women have to work harder to prove themselves and have to be more qualified or have more experience to be hired or promoted into senior roles. Women tend to focus more on engaging and developing people, encouraging contributions from multiple sources, listening to others before making decisions. Men are more ‘hands off’ and focus on results, not so much on people. Because of this difference, I was seen as not assertive enough, not making decisions fast enough. This is a major challenge for women when it comes to being promoted because our industry overall is still quite male dominated and we still work by the ‘rules’ set in the past by men.

All people should be treated equally and be given the same set of opportunities. I don’t agree that because you are of a certain gender, race, religion or belief, have a particular sexual orientation or age you should be given preference for a position.  I like the idea of equal representation and diversity because it broadens the ideas that come forward but I think a balance of skill sets is very important and if you can balance skills with representation, that is best.

Women can succeed in executive roles and have a voice and a seat at the table where decisions are made.

My advice – find a mentor to help you achieve your goals. Never give up. Keep working at building your skills. Get out there and be noticed for your achievements. Stay true to your own values and identity and whatever you do, don’t expect it to be easy.

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women who live and love Life Out Here!

cori-ramsay Written by Cori Ramsay, BA – Communications Officer