*The dialogue in this article was edited for clarity*
Women make up 50 percent of the population in Canada, yet this number does not represent leadership positions across the country.
In a 2021 study from Stats Canada, it was found that there are fewer women in top decision-making roles. Women were more than two times less likely than men to be in top roles, such as chairman or president. It was also found that 1 in 10 surveyed women in management were presidents compared to almost 1 in 4 men in the field.
But that does not seem to be the case at VIU.
In July 2019, VIU installed Dr. Deborah Saucier as its President and Vice-Chancellor. She became the first female president at VIU, even going back to when the university was called Malaspina College.
In October 2020, Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers, President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, became the new Chancellor for the school.
These two female leaders make up just some of the Senior Management Team at VIU, with 60 percent of the team being women.
Along with senior management, many other strong female leaders across VIU work to keep the institution running.
Victoria Bowns, Lara Wright, and Danielle Hyde are three women at VIU that have leadership roles on campus that help grow the community. Bowns is the Residence Life Coordinator (RLC) for VIU’s Student Housing, Wright is the Interim University Librarian for the VIU Library, and Hyde is the Director of Athletics and Recreation at the VIU Gym.
For Women’s History Month, I decided to ask these three women about being women in leadership in the various sectors across the campus.
Bowns became the RLC for Student Housing right after she graduated. She was deeply involved in university life as a VIU student and said it was strange transitioning from being a student graduating in June to being someone who worked with students that following September.
As the RLC, Bowns is in charge of supervising over 20 student Community Leaders and Program Leaders, and is in charge of managing conduct. If a resident breaks community standards or jeopardizes the safety of the community, she is the one who steps in and has educational conversations with the student.
Bowns also works on-call in rotation with the other managers at the residence. At any moment during the day or night, she could get a call that her help is needed at the residence.
“Sometimes I’ll get a call about [a Community Leader] needing to do a safe talk with somebody who’s experiencing a mental illness crisis-type situation, or I’m looking for a plumber at 4 am when there’s a flood in one of the buildings.”
Wright started working at the VIU Library back in 2019 as the Associate University Librarian. Hired as Interim University Librarian in August 2021, she now oversees copyright collections, data collection management, scholarly communications and digitization, among other responsibilities.
She got her Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies and Communications from Simon Fraser University and her Master’s in Library and Information Studies at Western University. She worked the front desk for a library in England after her bachelor’s degree, then decided to take her master’s upon returning to the Vancouver area.
Danielle Hyde did her undergrad in Recreation, Tourism, and Management at Malaspina College and then got her Masters in Sports Management. Hyde had played team sports all her life and played volleyball for Malaspina while at school, so she knew this was a sector she wanted to work in.
“Growing up in team sports my whole life, I think it made me who I am and to be able to give back and do the same for people coming up through the system. It’s a fun place to work,” Hyde said.
She got her first job in 2002 working at the VIU gym and kept climbing up the positions from there until she became the Interim Director of Athletics and Recreation in February 2020 and then was officially appointed into the position in September 2021.
Hyde is in charge of overseeing many aspects in the gym, including the varsity athletics, campus recreation, weight room, and fitness classes and programs.
I asked each of these women the following set of questions:
What is your favourite part of this job?
Bowns: “There’s a lot of similarities and things that [the Community Leaders and I] keep up with, like pop culture and what’s going on, or our interests. Also, getting to provide that mentorship and leadership is so fun.”
Wright: “[When] I see all the students studying and collaborating, I always feel really good about that. It looks like they’re just having fun, but I remember all this pressure to do your assignments and get them done in time and do well. I just have a lot of respect for students working so hard to reach their goals.”
Hyde: “Seeing [students] succeed on the court, be able to attend university and participate in sport, while getting an education. Seeing how they excel in the classroom, then … what kind of people they become when they leave us. Being able to be that place [where] the rest of our students who maybe don’t play university sports can come, make connections, make friends, have fun—we get to organize, then we get to be part of it. That’s really rewarding.”
What are some of the difficulties you faced when doing this job?
Bowns: “It’s hard to see people go through [mental health crises], and then having that responsibility of like ‘Okay, how can I assist them? What resources will they need?’ Then also how to talk to people, which is a skill. I can be quite introverted, but when I’m in this job I need to know … how to recognize symptoms like moments of distress.”
Wright: “Just navigating different processes and trying to get things done. Trying to keep everything organized and running smoothly. Basically, your job is to try and help other people do their job, and to make sure that students get good service.”
Hyde: “It’s no secret that being female and being in leadership roles can be challenging, especially in the sports sector. Around the table, there are many males. I don’t know that I felt challenged by that, though. I think it’s becoming more normal to see females in these types of leadership roles. So, I have some mentors across the country that I reach out to for advice.”
When you began your career, did you ever imagine that you would have this type of leadership role?
Bowns: “The moment I had the ability to leave residence, I was like, ‘Okay, bye.’ It’s funny how life works—it just brings you back. Now I have a better understanding of how this place actually works and what they do.”
Wright: “I came into the library, and I remember looking out the window at the beautiful view and thinking, ‘Oh, what a nice library this is.’ I just had no idea I would one day be in a leadership role in this library.”
Hyde: “I was just graduating [from Malaspina] and I had to give a speech to hundreds of Grade 10s about finding your path and about attending post-secondary. I was working as a gym attendant downstairs in the gym building and our Athletic Director at the time was upstairs. I started talking about how eventually I’d like to move out of that position and do something different. I pointed up to the top and said ‘One day, I’m going to have that job.’ I didn’t really think that was going to happen.”
How have you built confidence and/or resilience over the course of your career?
Bowns: “The amount of growth that I’ve experienced in this job is phenomenal. I reflect back on who I was when I first started, and even my ability for confrontation [has grown]. It’s necessary in life [to know] how to do it properly and talk to people, establish boundaries and advocate for yourself.”
Wright: “I’ve had to learn how to be more confident with public speaking and just feeling like I do have the smarts to be able to succeed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in this role. You kind of have to talk positively to yourself and I think you have to be disciplined.”
Hyde: “Stepping into situations where I didn’t know the answers, [where it’s] okay not to know the answers, the past few years [have] been a real test of resiliency. There is a strong team around me here. I think everybody knows that the reason we all have jobs is because of the students.”
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Bowns: “I think VIU does a great job of acknowledging diversity amongst gender, sexuality, and race, which I’m really grateful for because it’s something that I think gets taken for granted here. Because despite us living in a great country that has some things that need to be worked on, it’s not like that everywhere. So I guess [gender] barriers are just people’s lack of acknowledging that those issues do exist and that women do experience pay gaps for certain areas and leadership, and especially just misogyny [in general]. I’m a woman of colour in a leadership position, but sometimes those opportunities just aren’t made available to women.”
Wright: “It’s a matter of communicating your priorities effectively so that you can get work done, because everyone is busy and has a lot on their plate. Libraries [have] typically female-dominated professions, but that being said, women are less often in leadership positions. So, I would say that sometimes if you’re in a workplace where there are more men, or you’re interacting with a department where there are more men, sometimes I have felt that being a woman was sort of a disadvantage in that context. You have to be more assertive, stronger-willed, and for me, being kind of a quiet person, it’s a little bit challenging to embody that.”
Hyde: “I feel like I’ve had good opportunities, but I know that [workplace sexism] exists. I know in sports that there are way more male coaches, for example, than female coaches. We have programs [at the gym] to try and help address that. We have some female apprentice coaches right now, assistant coaching on the teams to try and encourage females to be part of and learn some leadership skills and continue on. I haven’t felt disadvantaged because I have lots of really good support around me, but I’d be ignorant to think that other people don’t experience it.”
How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Do you think there is such a thing as balance?
Bowns: “That’s something I’ve been really working on, and self betterment. I’ve been going to the gym, like, four to five times a week, I have my own partner, I have my own interests that I want to build upon and potentially make a career out of, but then my job is very demanding. With my job, because it is basically 24/7, I need to establish boundaries—when people can contact me and when to not respond to an email or respond to a message. It’s just like active practice. I don’t think [balance] is ever going to be fully achieved unless you’re perfect at time management and are really disciplined.”
Wright: “You have to have balance. I’m very much in favour of work-life balance. Because I think if you overwork yourself and get burnt out, you’re not going to bring your best foot forward to work—you’re going to be grumpy and have a hard time.”
Hyde: “There has to be. Yes, it’s hard, because there’s always wanting to do a good job and [making] sure that the people you’re working for—which in this case for me is the students, student athletes, and the coaches—[are] equipped with what they need to be successful. And it can be all-consuming. So definitely, as I’ve changed positions, it’s become more challenging, but I think it’s possible.”
How do you keep yourself from burning out?
Bowns: “Burnout is real and I think it’s just that you have to know yourself. You have to know when you’re reaching that point of ‘I’m exhausted.’ It really is boundaries and … just taking the break. I’m lucky that my job has the flexibility, [that] if I have time [off] in lieu from working on the weekend, I can use that in the middle of the week. This is like the day that I’m going to catch up on my laundry or catch up on cleaning my house, or even just chilling in bed for a little bit.”
Wright: “In my opinion, you have to work smarter, not harder. You have to make sure you come to work, and that you’re well-slept, physically active, eating well, and you work hard. And then you have your downtime so that you can regenerate your energy and be your best at work.”
Hyde: “I laugh, cry, do whatever. I have such great people around me here at work. Sometimes we just get up and need to go for a walk. Knowing that what we’re doing here is important.”
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders or young girls wanting to work in your profession?
Bowns: “Honestly, just focus on yourself. My motivation going through school was like, ‘Nobody has me the way that I have me. Nobody’s going to take care of me the way that I take care of me.’ So, when you prioritize yourself and you value yourself, you can literally do anything that you want. Learn your value, and keep that at the forefront of whatever you do, and be humble about it.”
Hyde: “Get involved with anything you can. If you’re interested—if it’s coaching, if it’s volunteering—don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and challenge yourself. … I think through time, grow and find your path.”
Bowns, Wright, and Hyde show that there’s always room for women to take leadership positions. Wright said to put the fear aside if you are nervous to take on a leadership position—there is always a need for a leader.
“Sometimes women don’t want to step into those leadership roles, because they may think they’re not good enough,” Wright said. “You just have to get rid of that thought and pursue whatever you want to achieve, because life’s short and if you’re interested in having a really enriching and interesting career, you have to take risks and go for it.”