When you think about Canada’s most influential women in business, the name Kirstine Stewart probably comes to mind.
Maybe you’ve even read her book, Our Turn, where she shares her seasoned insight with up-and-coming female leaders.
As the former Head of English Language Services at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Stewart played a pivotal role in taking it from last to first place in terms of Canadian programming. In 2013, she became the Managing Director and Head of Twitter Canada and quickly advanced to Vice President of Media for North America.
Last summer, Stewart left the social media company without a plan as to what she would do next – a career first for her. After a few offers and inquiries from headhunters and business leaders, Stewart accepted a role as Chief Strategy Officer at the media company Diply in September 2016, where she is currently front and centre in taking the company from the founder stage to the next level.
Here are tips from Stewart on how to be a #GirlBoss.
Switch it up.
Gone are the days when you’d stay at the same one or two companies for your entire career. “Is the company the same five years later as it was when you joined? If the answer is yes, then maybe you’re not learning that much more,” says Stewart. “If it has changed and keeps changing, then there’s an opportunity to be around that wave – and that’s a good thing too. It’s not always like ‘ok time is up;’ it’s more a matter of asking yourself ‘Where is this company now?’ ‘Is it changing?’ and ‘Am I a fit?” Early on in her career, Stewart says that there was a fear that you wouldn’t be hired if you weren’t coming straight from another job. “I think the economy has changed and opportunities have changed so much that people see that you don’t need to be in your job for seven years,” she says.
While we’ve undoubtedly made major waves when it comes to the presence of females in positions of power, as Stewart reminds us, every major shift isn’t without its backlash. She references the recent Google manifesto that claims that women are biologically less equip for certain workplaces than men are. “I think we are seeing some backlash now – it’s not fun. But we all know that this shift happens with every major evolution of change,” says Stewart. “I think women bosses now understand that they don’t have to be like a man to be as effective as a man is.” This is a resonating sentiment in Our Turn. “For women, it’s still a matter of proving this every day when you are a leader,” says Stewart. “The people that fight against female bosses are going to be dragged kicking and screaming to the new way of doing things.” She stresses the importance of understanding your intentions and being authentic to yourself. “You have to feel confident that you aren’t just doing it for some selfish reason, but you really truly believe that you can have an impact and do something for the benefits of others as well. This idea that being one of the boys is the way to get ahead ignores that you’re going to have different unique strengths and weaknesses from the people around you. Stay true to your wants, beliefs and values.”
Define your happy place.
Stewart urges to be honest with yourself in terms of what level you’re happy at. “Sometimes, we put our goals and where you think you should be or end up aren’t necessarily always the same,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure on women to hold a place at the top; but maybe certain woman made the choice not to be at the top. The benefits of the change that happens in business today is that you don’t necessarily have to be at the top to have a great impact and influence. I still see this generation coming through with this “if I’m not a manager by the time I’m 25, I have failed” mentality. That’s wrong. I think we have to be aware of how much things are changing and recognize what in your job makes you happy – it’s not the title.”
Remember that the digital world is a catch 22 situation.
Stewart, of course, recognizes the opportunity in digital, but also the pitfalls. “I don’t know if you’ll get the highs without the lows,” says Stewart, who admits she speaks from a privileged place as she doesn’t have to go through all the lows that some do. “The opportunities that digital brings in terms of expressing your own voice are great, but the catch 22 is that if you express it too much you can be silenced. The idea that digital equals the playing field is the wrong one – I don’t think digital solves for that,” she says. “But what I do think is that it’s an avenue for a voice to be heard that couldn’t be heard otherwise. It isn’t the great equalizer people thought it once would be.” She acknowledges that the further we move along from the promise of what tech could bring, it becomes a little less shiny and a little discouraging. “There is no rulebook in tech,” she says. “We discover things as we go along – both good and bad. The tech industry follows the mistakes of other industries that have come before it.
Don’t be a superhero.
Stewart stresses the importance of being honest with yourself about how much you’re taking on once strollers and diapers become household staples. “There’s still this desire to keep up with the Jones, and that’s only fuelled by social media,” says Stewart. “In Our Turn, I urge women not to put on the superwoman cape. Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we’re way too quick to judge others on the choices they make with raising their families. Say the kids aren’t getting a hot meal on the table at a certain hour every day– is that really so bad? You need to evaluate the choices you are making to prioritize your family; it’s not just about the mother – it’s about parents. You need to choose your partner well. If you don’t choose someone who respects your decisions and have a similar attitude on how you want to raise your family, it’s going to be trouble from the beginning. But either way, it isn’t always going to be perfect. I think ambitious women tend to try to step up to fill in a gap because they think if things aren’t perfect that they have to do it. Try not to do it for a bit and see what happens.”
Despite her success and respect as one of Canada’s most influential women in business, Stewart says that she still feels undermined in her career. “I think everybody can feel undermined; I think women do and I think people of colour do,” says Stewart. “Anyone who doesn’t meet the expectations of what leaders should look like struggle harder than others. You have to prove yourself even more as a leader in these roles.”