Ask Deborah: Breaking New Ground

December 1, 2015Instead of answering a question this month, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a question. Actually, make that two questions: “Who has championed you?” and “Who can you champion?”

These questions are top of mind for me since returning  from last month’s inspirational Catalyst Canada Honours (CCH) conference and dinner, which celebrates exceptional individuals in corporate Canada who are personally and visibly committed to the advancement of women, and who make it a priority every single day. Our CCH Champions are powerful role models—not just for women in their companies and networks, but for other corporate leaders. Through their advocacy and intentional actions, our 2015 CCH Champions—Cynthia Hansen, Senior Vice President, Operations, Enbridge Pipelines Inc.; Colleen Moorehead, Chief Client Officer, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP; and Bill Thomas, Chief Executive Officer—KPMG in Canada, Chair—KPMG’s Americas Region—show what is possible when leaders hold themselves and others accountable for making sure all talented individuals in their companies have equal opportunities  to succeed. They redefine for a new generation of young men and women who comes to mind when we think CEO, CFO, or Director.

Bill, Cynthia, and Colleen understand the impact that champions have had in their own lives and careers, and it’s one of the reasons they pay it forward by advocating for others.  During an opening session at the conference, Bill told of how early in his career his boss had put him in charge of an important and high-profile project, but a senior leader didn’t think Bill was ready and wanted him off.  Bill’s boss refused, saying, “If you take him off, you’ll have to take me off.” Bill was allowed to stay on the project, and it was a success. Through his boss’s courageous move, the company got to see what Bill could achieve, and Bill learned the power of having a sponsor who was willing to take a risk on him. 

As we head into the holiday season, think about the champions who have made a difference for your career.  How can you do the same for others? I know from my own experience that having mentors and sponsors in your corner is often the difference between a possibility and a dream realized. By championing others, you will help them reach their full potential—making what might have seemed unimaginable absolutely possible.

As inspiration, I’d like to share with you a video that I had the pleasure of introducing at the CCH dinner. It celebrates important Canadian women trailblazers: Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first woman astronaut; Bev Busson, the first woman Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Judy Cameron, Air Canada’s first female commercial pilot. While once little girls might have said, “I thought only boys did that,” these trailblazers redefined what comes to mind when we hear astronaut, pilot, or commissioner. They showed that we’re stronger when we include people of all backgrounds in our leadership—and that we can live our dreams. They’ve also reminded us that firsts don’t happen in a vacuum. Yes, firsts require hard work, talent, and determination. But firsts also require champions who have the courage to stand up, put a stake in the ground, and offer the first big break to someone who might be considered an unlikely candidate. I’m sure that each of these trailblazers had a champion in the background, cheering them on so they could blaze a path, make history, and inspire others for years to come.

Enjoy the video! I hope it inspires you to break new ground in your own career, and help others to do so as well.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.