Women of LeadHERship – Interview SeriesMHS Talent Development
A Conversation with MHS CEO, Hazel Wheldon
How many of your organization’s leaders are women? Have you ever worked for a female CEO? Have you ever stopped to think about female representation in leadership positions? According to a study we conducted with HR.com, the Women in Leadership Survey 2020, women are not only under-represented in the leadership ranks but gender diversity in leadership positions is not a priority for most organizations.
At MHS, we take pride in the progress we have made in providing equitable opportunities and gender diversity amongst leadership ranks. In 2020, we are proud to say females comprise of 48% of our leadership team, 60% of our executive team, and we are led by an incredible female CEO, Hazel Wheldon.
We connected with Hazel and our Chief Product Officer (CPO) Jenni Pitkanen, as well as several other inspiring women across various industries who have made the climb up the corporate ladder. Each of these women has taken risks in environments that didn’t always feel safe to do so. They looked at barriers as new challenges to overcome while building their resilience and gumption along the way. They shared their stories, their advice, and took this chance to empower each reader – no matter their age, gender, or career path – to take the risk, harness their internal power, and aim for the top.
The following is a snippet of the “Women of LeadHERship” interview, featuring the responses of Hazel Wheldon, CEO of MHS.
IS THERE STILL A GLASS CEILING?
WHAT WAS YOUR “GLASS CEILING MOMENT”?
HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED A BARRIER AS A RESULT OF STEREOTYPES OR LINGERING STIGMAS, MAKING YOU WORK HARDER OR DIFFERENTLY THAN A MAN WOULD FOR THOSE POSITIONS?
I have been extremely fortunate in that I have never once encountered a glass ceiling. I have had mentors and leaders that saw something in me, that sometimes I didn’t see myself and encourage, support and provide opportunities. I have had male colleagues underestimate me and try to derail my career, to go to my leaders and attempt to sideline me. That only made me double down on my efforts.
When faced with these challenges the most important thing to remember is that you are better than this. Never ever stoop to the tactics of those who would try to sideline you, always rise above them.
THERE IS A LOT OF WORK BEING DONE TO ENCOURAGE AND HELP WOMEN SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER. HAVE YOU BEEN MENTORED BY A FELLOW FEMALE IN YOUR PERSONAL OR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
HOW WERE THESE MENTORSHIPS ESTABLISHED AND FOSTERED?
WHAT ARE THE 3 MOST INSPIRING QUALITIES OR COMPETENCIES YOU SEE IN OTHER FEMALE LEADERS?
The worst boss I ever had was female if you can believe it. From her, I learned how not to lead! That was when I lived in Singapore, she didn’t treat male or female employees differently, she belittled and berated everyone, so in that way, I didn’t experience any different treatment.
I am of the belief that all of us, male or female, should seek out mentors of any gender. The whole point of mentorship is to find someone who inspires, motivates, encourages and supports you. They should be different enough from you to provide a contrast and an opportunity for growth, they should recognize what is unique in you and encourage you to grow and build your style, not try to be them or anyone else. If you try to be something you are not you will only come across as inauthentic and frankly, it is mentally exhausting and difficult to maintain.
The most inspiring qualities I see in leaders of any gender are authenticity, humility and the ability to really listen.
HOW CAN WOMEN LEVERAGE ASSERTIVENESS WHEN BATTLING CLICHÉS AROUND BEING BOSSY?
HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO JUSTIFY YOUR DIRECTNESS?
DO PEOPLE ASSUME YOU WILL BE MORE LENIENT, KIND, AND PASSIVE RATHER THAN A FIERCE, ASSERTIVE LEADER? DO YOU BELIEVE WE HAVE OVERCOME THIS STEREOTYPE ALREADY?
Again, people need to be themselves. Assertiveness does not mean being aggressive, being direct does not mean lacking in empathy. If decisions and interactions are governed by facts, willingness to listen and the ability to act, then you may not make everyone happy, but you can be confident that you have been as fair as you can.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Sheelagh Whittaker, back when she was chief executive officer of EDS Canada Inc. She said “I am often decisive, I am seldom certain”. This is a quote that I live by. To me, it means you must make decisions, sometimes without all the information, but you need to always question those choices and be open to new facts and information and be prepared to revisit those decisions. With this approach, it shows you are open to change and to altering course. I truly believe that this helps mitigate the ‘bossy’ perception.
No one wants a fierce or aggressive leader. I think that leadership stereotype has outlived its time. It was certainly true in the past, but I believe now that leadership style is not only outdated, it is also been demonstrated as ineffective. This doesn’t mean you can’t be decisive, firm and fair. Kindness is not incompatible with assertiveness. I detest the word passive; it has no place in any leadership style.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY BE?
That is a very good question, I am not good with quippy one-liners which is typically what a title is. I grew up on a farm, and one of the sayings about farmers is that they are ‘jack of all trades, masters of none’, meaning that they know enough about everything to get by and do basic tasks but are highly skilled at none of those things. They need to be a little bit of a weatherman, a little bit of a mechanic, a little mathematician, and a little bit of a veterinarian. Most of all as a farmer you need to be agile, willing to pivot and adapt to whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
I have also travelled extensively and lived and worked in several very distinct countries. I think this background has been pivotal in forming my personality and my approach to life and work. So, I would try to draw on those things in creating a title.
Open to suggestions!
IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, OR EVEN JUST 5 YEARS AGO, WHAT CAREER OR EVEN PERSONAL ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF?
The advice I would give myself is to continue to stay true to who I am even if others try to convince me to be someone else. The only times I have struggled in my career is when I have wavered from my core beliefs because I have let others convince me I was wrong.
WHAT’S ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
Authentic. I am who I am, you get what you get.
THE WAY FORWARD
Each of the women we interviewed has been supported by colleagues, friends, and family, but most importantly, they have supported themselves. It is vital that we celebrate the triumphs of female leaders but also to work towards a future where:
“There will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
-Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Read the full report on The State of Women in Leadership 2020 here. Help prioritize the development of women leaders and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.