Women of Influence

Last week, I was invited to the Women of Influence Lunch by one of my Board members and the keynote speaker was Maureen Sabia.  I admit that I was probably overly excited to be in a room full of ambitious women (and a handful of men!) to hear one of Canada’s most powerful women.

Sabia has made a career at the board level and is currently Chairman of Canadian Tire Corporation.  Just in case anyone thought I should call her “Chair” or some other more neutral term, I chose that word intentionally.  Sabia said that she worked hard to earn the title of Chairman and prefers not to be called a piece of furniture.

And that was just one of the strong opinions she expressed.  Her mother told her that you can do anything if you have the smarts, education and drive.  But Ms. Sabia actually disagrees with those motherly words of encouragement. She said that women have been gravely misled by a society that claimed they could have it all.  According to her, they can’t.  Equality, she says, is about making choices – she believes in equality of opportunity not equality of result.

As for women on boards, she said that since boards have to be very active and productive, everyone must work hard and ask tough questions.   She believes in diversity at the leadership level but not at the expense of expertise and experience.

But the line that I have wrestled with since her talk is this one -‘ there is no room for balance in the fast lane’.  Sabia has made some tough choices.  In law school, for example, she broke off her engagement and never married.  She clearly chose to put her career first and give up on the dream of raising a family of her own.

Is this the best message for aspiring women?   Of 93 SEAL Canada schools, 31 are led by women (14 of those 31 women run girls’ schools, though being female is not a prerequisite for the job); and one of those women is returning to her headship having had her fourth baby in the spring.  Most have had families and many have grown children. No one would argue that the life of a Head of School is a tidy, nine-to-five job.  It’s as tough as any CEO position and equally demanding in terms of hours, stress and the required leadership skills to manage a complex operation.

As far as I know, none of them use the title “Headmaster” but all have the smarts, education and drive.

Rather than Sabia’s take-no-prisoners approach, I would argue that these women are following a revised mantra:  You can have it all, just not all at once.

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