The chair of Canadian Tire came to Kitchener on Wednesday, and left an audience of more than 100 with something to ponder as International Women’s Day approaches (March 8).
“We should all ask ourselves, ‘Why do we still need an International Women’s Day?’ ” Maureen Sabia said in a lunch-hour address at the Tannery Event Centre.
She also toured the Communitech Hub, where Canadian Tire runs an innovation lab.
Hosted by the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, the luncheon event celebrated innovative women. Rachel Paulter, CEO of Suncayr, and Jen Moss, co-founder of the employee engagement software company Plasticity, opened with presentations.
Sabia suggested ways that International Women’s Day could be re-invented.
“I think International Women’s Day should be used to raise awareness for those women around the globe who desperately need our help in the awareness of their plight,” she said.
She referred to women who are pushed into early marriages, and who suffer indignities and violence.
Sabia began her career when things were not as progressive as they are today. She was only one of three women in her law class at the University of Toronto in the 1960s.
“I’m a contrarian by nature and by upbringing,” Sabia said.
She grew up in a family that encouraged her to pursue any career she wished, and taught her she should not “be reliant on any Tom, Dick or Harry.”
Sabia had a few opinions about issues often discussed by women in business:
On work/life balance:
“I’m not a balanced woman, I don’t believe in a balanced life and don’t think leaders have a balanced life.”
On roles and gender:
“I would have thought that the issue of women’s leadership would have been laid to rest as early as 1558, when good Queen Elizabeth came to the throne of England and showed Europe what kingship was all about.”
On political correctness:
“We’re living in a world where political correctness has become a dictatorship.”
On new feminism versus old feminism:
“Today’s feminism seems to reject empowerment in favour of victim-mode and more and more protection.”
Sabia said she takes offence to the view that women can’t handle life and need special treatment.
Aside from raising gritty issues around the equality of women, especially in business, Sabia also imparted wisdom about things that have worked for her.
“There’s nothing more important than your reputation,” she said, adding that values, standards and principles mean nothing unless they cost something to stand by them.
Sabia said she borrows from the late Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister, who did what she believed rather than follow others.
Sabia shared some advice with the audience:
• Don’t make hard and fast plans. Be ready to take advantage of opportunities.
• Adopt a strong work ethic, always pursue learning and stay true to yourself.
“You need to focus on who you are and be comfortable with that, because it will shape a lot of what you do and how well you do it.”
• Lead with vision, and articulate well. “Your team must be convinced that you will hold them accountable for achieving their targets, and that there will be consequences if they do not.”
Sabia also talked about how critical networking is for career success. Instead of seeking other women, women in business should make a point to network with men, or “wherever power lies,” she said.
Sabia finished with a nod to women who fought for equality.
“True equality, means that we have the choice to stay at home to be moms, or to become astronauts or CEO’s, and the choice is yours and those choices should be respected, Sabia said.
Photo: Maureen Sabia, Chairman of the Board of Canadian Tire Corporation.