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Five Women Executives Talk Gender Parity and Life Lessons

A group of women sitting around a wooden table while working

In honour of International Women’s Day, the Telfer School of Management team met with five highly successful women executives — and Telfer alumnae — to share life lessons and shed light on the representation of women in different industries. 

The executives were: 

Janice Siddons, COO, Produce8 (EMBA ’20) Headshot of Janice Siddons

Janice has been in the managed services industry since 2000. She has held senior leadership roles, from channel chief, VP and GM at N-able to COO of Fully Managed by Telus Business, as a key executive in both companies from inception. Janice has been recognized as a CRN Channel Chief, as one of the Top 50 most influential channel executives, as one of Ottawa’s Forty Under 40 in 2013, and as MSPmentor’s Global 250 Executive in 2014. Today, she is the chief operating officer at tech startup Produce8. 

Gen Doucet, managing director, Accenture (BCom ’02)Headshot of Gen Doucet

Gen has worked her way up from analyst to managing director at Accenture over the last 20 years. She is an executive coach for women in the Insights program at the company, passionate about women empowerment and leadership. Gen is the former president of CASCO at Telfer and is highly involved with the school through mentoring and judging case competitions. 

Jane Jhaveri-Malt, former chief customer officer, Tangerine (BCom ’92) Headshot of Jane Jhaveri Malt

Jane has worked in management roles at RBC, IBM, Scotiabank and, most recently, at Tangerine (as chief customer officer). A bilingual professional passionate about tech, she credits a consulting project she did as a business student at uOttawa with giving her an edge in her career. Taking a break to find her next venture, Jane is currently mentoring young women and spending time with her family (she met her husband at Telfer!). 

Megan Takeda-Tully, founder and CEO, Suppli (BCom ’07) Headshot of Megan Takeda Tully

After graduating, Megan worked in the public investment industry in Toronto, and then built and managed a $140 million entrepreneur-financing portfolio at Grand Challenges Canada. In 2020, she quit it all to start her own business, Suppli, a social enterprise delivering sustainable take-out packaging. Megan’s career path included Telfer’s social entrepreneurship class, which she credits with sparking her interest in the topic.  

Agatha Alstrom, VP risk underwriting and portfolio management, Export Development Canada (BCom ’00) Headshot of Agatha Alstrom

Agatha has been at EDC for 24 years. She started her career as an information analyst before rising to the roles of manager, director and, eventually, vice president of risk underwriting and portfolio management. An active alumna, Agatha frequently speaks with Telfer’s students in classes, attends student club events and mentors the next generation at both Telfer and EDC.

Women in business: Gender parity in the workforce 

Q: How has your industry evolved in representing women and minority populations? 

Agatha: I’m proud of what EDC has done. Our inclusive trade team has increased EDC’s support of women in trade by five times. We work with banks to lend more funding to equity-seeking groups, including women and Indigenous people. We also have employee resource groups. My goal is to support all Black and women employees to grow at EDC.  

Megan: The restaurant industry is diverse, which is why I love it. The startup ecosystem is evolving. There’s work to do — a lot of programs have not historically catered to women. I’m a mother of two young children and there has not been much support for primary caregivers or recent undergrads. Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed a real shift in the programs. As women, we need to ensure we have a voice and a place at the table. 

Jane: I feel the role of men in our society has changed — I’ve seen an incredible shift in our males at all levels. More paternity leaves and role modelling are game-changing, especially in the finance industry. Yet, we’ve noticed a major gap in terms of funding for women entrepreneurs at banks. Scotiabank built a national — and then international — plan to train women in pitching, confidently asking for more, and has set aside a tremendous amount of funding.  

Gen: When I started at Accenture 20 years ago, there were not a lot of female partners. We’ve come a long way. We are close to meeting our ambitious gender parity goal by 2025: of 733,000 employees globally, 48% are women and 45% of our board of directors are women. Our female CEO, Julie Sweet, is ranked as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.  

Our Insights program ensures that high-performing women don’t opt out of progressing upwards. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy — women often self-select out of leadership positions. I’m an executive sponsor of Insights, and seeing the light bulb go off when women realize “I’m doing the job effectively. Why shouldn’t I make that run for partner?” is amazing.   

Janice: The technology industry has been heavily male-dominated. I feel grateful that throughout my career I’ve had a seat at the leadership table, and all the men I interacted with have been great. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen more women in tech. At Fully Managed, we had many technology women leaders cognizant of DEI, making sure everybody had a voice. At Produce8, we are a team of 34 and we’ve got women in all departments, from product management and engineering to sales. That’s something to be proud of — positive shifts are happening in both technology and SaaS industries. 

Women’s empowerment: Celebrate the positive 

Q: What was your “Aha!” moment, when you realized you had what it takes? 

Janice: When I completed my executive MBA at the University of Ottawa — I was 46 and working full-time at Fully Managed. When I was studying, I thought I was going to have everything together.

Toward the end, I had a massive realization that learning is a constant journey.

Bring it on! 

Gen: When I was at that senior manager level. I was opting out because I thought I wouldn’t be successful. I had a female sponsor who pushed me into an executive coaching program, where I confronted what I was so scared of. I realized I was already performing at that level but it took some help to see it. Then, I said I wanted to make managing director. My career took off quickly after that.

It’s important to have not only mentors but also sponsors, people who will lift you.

As female executives, we must sponsor the women who are coming up behind us. 

Jane: I always had confidence and knew what to do. My big “Aha!” was when I embraced who I was as a diverse individual, unpacked what had been passed down to me as a member of an immigrant family and understood why it was holding me back. When I share my story with people, they start crying. Because they hadn’t been seen that way. I realized I could help them break those cycles. We have to show up as our whole selves and be confident in it. 

Megan Takeda-Tully holding a Suppli takeout containerMegan: Despite being in the startup ecosystem for six years, I felt huge impostor syndrome when I founded my company — it was very overwhelming. The first accelerator that took a chance on us was the ventureLAB Tech Undivided program. An adviser encouraged me to apply. I felt like I wasn’t experienced enough but applied anyway. We got accepted and got into more programs after. Since then, I realized that the way I approach things is still effective and successful. I’m now comfortable in my skin as an entrepreneur and know I don’t need to fit an arbitrary mould.  

Agatha: I jumped into a multimillion-dollar transformation for EDC with zero technology background. I decided, “Why not? I’ll figure it out,” and I did. It was a successful project. After, my VP asked, “You’re doing all this work, but where are you? How are you marketing?” That was my “Aha!” moment. Often, you have amazing women delivering results but feeling shy about promoting. I began actively celebrating our accomplishments and recognizing other people’s efforts, including the women on my team. It changed the arc of my career.

Now I ask my mentees, “What are you doing to market your successes? If you aren’t, why not?”  

Find your network 

Q: What role do you think education plays in empowering women? What steps can Telfer take to further support professional women’s success?  

Agatha Alstrom and her mentee SiyaAgatha: Anyone can learn. However, experiential learning and learning how to connect with others mean a lot. Telfer can connect women to a greater network. Ideally, a woman wanting to grow has access to different experiences: What’s it like to work at a startup? At a consulting firm? In the public sector? How can she collect experiences to see a broad range of work, but also connect to a greater community? Networking is where Telfer can help young women grow in their careers.  

Megan: Learn about different career paths from people who look like you and sound like you. Build the mentor network and have people in your corner to guide you. It’s important to have women do that. It’s intimidating as a student to reach out to an executive, but encouraging a professional yet approachable relationship is important. I’m happy to respond to 100% of the LinkedIn messages I get from students. There aren’t enough sponsors and mentors out there. It’s a little thing you can do to impact a person’s career. 

Jane: I love this. My daughter’s in university, and she asked me if she should do a master’s.

I said one thing no one can ever take from you is your education. It gives you invaluable confidence.

The academic makes the practical. I did the small business consulting program in my undergrad and gained confidence when I helped a client build a business plan for her new company. I will forever be grateful for that, and it gave me an edge when I was applying for jobs.  

Gen: Thinking back to my time at uOttawa, empowerment for me came from student clubs. I was part of the founding CASCO committee and when I was interviewing with Accenture, I proved I could run something that big. The co-op experience and my exchange gave me a sense of independence. All of a sudden, I realized I could go anywhere and do anything. Telfer should further encourage female students to get involved in clubs, programs and mentorship while providing more exposure to female leaders. 

Janice: To be able to scale was the main reason I went back to do my EMBA, because it matters. It gives credibility, confidence and knowledge. At Fully Managed, we were 400+ employees with $100 million in revenue. To be honest, “Janice Siddons, EMBA” helps. My experience with Telfer was also great. I commend Telfer for the strides they’ve made to share the wealth of information available. 

Women in leadership: Advice to young women 

Q: What advice do you have for young women students who are studying business right now?  

Janice: Be authentic. Be confident and humble. Sometimes I’ll catch myself. And my little voice will say, “No, Janice, you’re going to be your authentic self.” And I go back, and I do it. It always works out well. 

Gen: When you’re first starting out, your work will speak for itself. As you progress, you have to speak for yourself. A practical tip is to write self-input in the third person. Describe what you did as if you were writing about a friend, and it comes more naturally. We are kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves sometimes.  

Jane Jhaveri-Malt at the Annual Tangerine RallyJane: Self-awareness — invest time to figure out who you are. Ask your friends, ask your family. I went through life being what everyone told me I needed to be. Knowing who you are will help you work in the right company for the right people. Believe in your intuition and what the signs are telling you. Every time I ignored my intuition, I regretted it. 

Megan: Get involved in clubs or co-op. I played hockey and I encourage others to get involved in sports. But I wish I had done more to prepare for my career. Also, don’t negotiate against yourself.

Instead of thinking, “Oh, do you think that’s too much (money)?” ask instead, “Is that enough based on my skills and experience?” 

Agatha: In a meeting, ask questions: “Why do we do things this way?” “How can I be involved?” “Can I shadow you to learn more?” It’s noticeable to anyone around the table: “Oh, that person's interested, I’m going to devote time to them because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves.” Push for more. Ask questions. Be curious.  

Thank you to our five powerful alumnae for sharing their insights with us in honour of International Women’s Day. We can’t wait to see how much more these accomplished executives will achieve in their careers and wish them the best of luck! At Telfer, we’re committed to empowering underrepresented student populations, including young women. 

Looking for a way to stay connected with your alma mater? Explore the Telfer alumni page to learn about Telfer alumni in the lead, ways to engage with students, upcoming events and the Telfer Awards. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

About the Author

Jeune diplômée du programme de baccalauréat en sciences commerciales spécialisé à l’École de gestion Telfer, Sonya Gankina a déjà amorcé sa carrière en tant que consultante et rédactrice en marketing numérique. Ses trois années d’expérience en agence cumulées pendant ses études l’ont aidée à fonder sa propre entreprise, où elle travaille avec de petites boîtes de la région comme de vastes sociétés au Canada et aux États-Unis. On peut la lire dans plusieurs publications de renom, et dans un blogue sur les arts et la culture à Ottawa. <br><br>Sonya Gankina is a recent graduate from the Honours Bachelor of Commerce program at the Telfer School of Management and has already begun her career as a consultant and writer in digital marketing. Armed with three years of agency experience earned while completing her studies, she has established her own business working with local businesses and large enterprises in Canada and the United States. She’s been featured in numerous respectable publications and also writes for an arts and culture blog in Ottawa.

Profile Photo of Sonya Gankina