Tanya O’Callaghan, for a long time, never thought about gender in the workplace. Nothing about her early jobs altered her long-held view that being a woman would not impede her career goals.
But now, having gradually advanced to a senior management position, her view has changed.
“It’s become hard to ignore the fact that, in a world where women make up a fair share of the workforce, I nonetheless often find myself the only woman in a full room of organizational leaders,” says O’Callaghan.
“The frequency of this occurrence has steadily grown as I’ve taken on more senior roles in my career.” O’Callaghan is an IABC Ottawa member and the Senior Manager, Communications, with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). The Ottawa-based organization manages the .CA domain for Canadians and is generally devoted to strengthening Canada’s internet.
CIRA has become increasingly committed to diversity. A significant portion of the management team is women, she says, and CIRA is always on the lookout for diverse perspectives to add. “Study after study has proven that diversity can benefit organizations because diverse people bring different viewpoints and different solutions to challenges,” says O’Callaghan.
“In my personal experience, diversity can also bring a new dynamic and perspective – especially during difficult situations – that one wouldn’t find in a homogenous group.” But she laments that not all organizations share the same commitment. “As women leaders, we bring a unique perspective, but it is sometimes a lone one,” says O’Callaghan.
“Focus on relationships and respect are universal qualities of leadership, regardless of gender, but I would argue women have to spend a lot more time building up positive relationships in order for our voices to carry weight.”
Her advice to young women hoping to make it in communications? Focus on cultivating the quality of your work. “Talented people will stand out and will be recognized – men or women,” she says. “Like any other field, communications is a slog – you need to prove yourself and work your way up.”
O’Callaghan, for example, has worked hard to refine her leadership style as she has advanced into more senior roles. Her management style starts with a simple premise. Someone hired for a certain role has the skills and capabilities to do their job. Then she focuses on giving her team members the space they need to be successful – all with an eye to avoiding micro-management.
This frees her up to focus on the true strategic work that will provide the most value to her employer. Another piece of advice: Don’t allow your pride to hold you back.
“By checking my ego at the door, listening and learning from my peers, I have gained a deep understanding about CIRA, our business and its underpinning technology. This has made me a trusted leader and a better communicator.”
O’Callaghan says the strongest relationships are built on transparency and openness, so she doesn’t mind admitting that her IABC Ottawa membership has lapsed here and there over the years. She first joined as a junior communications officer when she was the sole communicator in her workplace. Over the next decade, she’s come back to IABC Ottawa whenever she needed professional development and support from peers.
Attending last year’s World Conference – an annual IABC event that brings together communicators from around the world – helped rekindle her interest. She got to see first-hand how active IABC is in Canada. Now, she says, she doesn’t expect she’ll be letting it lapse again.
“There are so many talented communications professionals in this city,” says O’Callaghan. “We are very lucky to have this many opportunities to learn and network right in our community.”
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