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U of T women in leadership share their strategies

International Women's Day Panel addresses full house

Attendees at the annual International Women's Day breakfast listened intently to the stories and career advice given by a quartet of senior leaders at the university. (Photos by Jon Horvatin)

“I’m proud to introduce some women who are making a real difference at the University of Toronto,” said Professor Angela Hildyard, vice-president (human resources and equity) as she introduced the panel of participants at an International Women’s Day breakfast panel discussion for women in management

The event was sponsored by Hildyard and Professor Cheryl Misak, vice-president and provost. It was organized by the status of women office and held at the Faculty Club. Dean Sandy Smith of forestry, Dean Sioban Nelson of nursing, Dean Julia O’Sullivan of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and Principal Janet Paterson of Innis College joined moderator Rosie Parnass, director of the Organizational Development and Learning Centre, to share some of their experiences and tips for success.

Panellists each talked about the characteristics they believe are necessary for leadership.

“O’Sullivan (below, right) ranked courage No. 1 among the characteristics necessary for leadership.

“Vision is fabulous,” she said, “but you have to be willing to reach down even when you’re worried and afraid, and stand up for your principles.”

Paterson (pictured below) cited vision, good people skills and good organizational skills as keys to success on the job.

“People matter, and some people are difficult,” she said. “You must learn to be flexible and learn to work with a great variety of people.”

As for organization, Paterson noted “because there is a lot of work, you have to be organized. You need a schedule, you must think of priorities and you must know how to run a life that is very busy.”

As working mothers, running busy lives is something all four women have been doing for years and they’ve managed to juggle work duties and responsibilities at home.

“I worked full time and did a PhD in three years with three children at home, the youngest nine months old,” said Nelson. “I found work a nice respite from family issues.”

Smith (pictured below, right) said her work and her family life are inseparable in many ways and the lessons she learns in one sphere apply to the other.

“My family has enriched my life and made me a better administrator,” said Smith, “and the challenges of administration help me go back home and see what the priorities are.”

Their advice for aspiring leaders?

“Be yourself,” said Nelson (pictured left) . “Figure out the leadership style that feels natural and from that place you can be courageous.”

Paterson urged attendees to find a role model and to have the courage to look and apply for other positions.

“Don’t underestimate yourselves,” she said. “Know your strengths and your shortcomings.”

Smith suggested managers revel in the journey as well as the destination.

“Enjoy the process,” she said. “You need end goals, but appreciate the here and now. Step back and look at the big picture.”

O’Sullivan agreed with her colleagues and added her own mantra.

“Follow your passion,” she said. “Then, the job is easy and fun. You can learn to be a leader.”