Women in Business: Betty-Ann Heggie

Betty-Ann Heggie

Betty-Ann Heggie

After 27 highly successful years in the corporate world,  Betty-Ann Heggie retired from her position as Senior Vice President of Potash Corp in 2007, and now serves as a corporate director, advocate for women, professional speaker and blogger for Huffington Post. She was also inducted into the Hall of Fame of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, the YWCA Lifetime Achievement Award, the University of Saskatchewan Alumni Award for Mentorship and the Stevie Award for ‘Women Helping Women’.

Currently, she serves on the board of Allana Potash, a TSX traded company. She has used her  retirement to spearhead the Betty Ann Heggie Womentorship Foundation, aimed at getting more women to the decision-making table. To this end, she founded a groundbreaking mentorship program at her alma mater, the University of Saskatchewan with more than 1800 women having participated in the program’s networking events, professional development and its annual women’s film festival. A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan she has also completed the Senior Executive Program at the Columbia Business School in New York.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

I grew up in a small town hotel which encouraged my love of business and my appreciation for the importance of service. After moving to the city to attend university I became the first female beer representative for one of Canada’s leading brewers, Labatt’s. I always loved sales and over the next few years tried my hand at advertising, Xerox and potash. In each job I was hired as a ‘token woman’ and had to prove my worth in male-dominated environments. My main career was at PotashCorp, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, and I worked my way up the ranks at a time when the elevator didn’t necessarily go all the way to the top for women. It was a great career but as a life-long learner I eventually realized that new learnings were only going to be at the margins. That’s when I decided to turn the page and enter the next chapter of my life. Since ‘retiring’ I have fed my passion for helping women step into their energy and ‘stand tall’ through keynote addresses, professional development workshops and one-on-one mentorship. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my stories to help others avoid the school of ‘hard knocks’. These stories are rooted in my theory of ‘Gender Physics ‘which says that both men and women have Masculine and Feminine Energy inside of them which can be accessed as their circumstances warrant. Life hasn’t always been serious- I love to laugh and have had some fun along the way performing as a belly dancer, doing numerology readings and participating in a reality TV show. While my career was important to me I am lucky to have been able to combine it with wonderful relationships with important women in my life: my two daughters, my mother and sister. It is these bonds that put everything else into context.

How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?

Growing up in a small town hotel I first learned the importance of hard work. Then I learned that hard work wasn’t enough- you have to cultivate relationships with your customers, your suppliers and with your staff. It is important to know people’s birthdays, to take time to ask about their families and to hear their stories. Such are the things that not only build loyalty and allow you to grow your business, they provide soul satisfaction. Human nature thrives on connection and that is a key element of who I am. When I went to PotashCorp I used the principles I learned as a girl in the hotel to establish relationships with our customers, and then again with our investors when I became responsible for raising investment capital. It was in creating these external power bases that I was recognized and acknowledged internally. At one point I was named the top investor relations person in Canada by my peers and one of our brokerage analysts wrote a testament that said, a full two points on our company’s superior multiple could be attributed to my ability to form relationships. I considered this the highest possible compliment. Another thing that influenced me was the fact that in all my careers I was navigating the narrow mine-field allotted to women trailblazers. These experiences drove home to me the different ways that men and women approach situations and that formed the basis of my ‘Gender Physics’ theory. Since retiring and focusing solely on helping women advance I have had more time to travel and hear the stories of other women all over the world. It has convinced me that at our core, women are the same everywhere, and that we need to bring forth our collaborative, consensual Feminine Energy to help balance the world’s current Masculine Energy leadership style.

What have you learned from these highlights and challenges?

To have success in both our professional and personal lives each of us must be authentic. People are attracted to those who are being true to who they are and no one likes a phoney. In fact, if you are doing what you were meant to do you’ll get 80% of your results from 20% of your energy and we all need more energy! To stand in our own authentic power each of us must become aware of our energy sources. Then we need to do more of the things that give us energy and delegate the rest. To get in touch with what energizers you, follow your passion. If you are working on something you feel passionate about you’ll find that you are ‘in the flow’, stepping outside of time and space. You’ll have more energy; people will be drawn to you and will want to help you reach your goals. As each of us need the assistance of others, women need to network to form a friendship group to turn to when the going gets tough. That means that you’ll need someone safe to whom you can blow off steam at lunch and come back to the office appearing composed. It also means that you’ll need a mentor to sponsor you and a group of like-minded people to replenish your energy when you feel drained. To establish such relationships women must ‘give to get’. They have to establish the relationship first before they ask for assistance. Most importantly, you’ll need to take risks. Too often when things aren’t going as desired, women expect someone to rescue them. Each of us must pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and do it for ourselves. That is how we learn resilience. When we venture out and take a risk not everything will turn out as we would like. In my experience women tend to fall into negative thinking and then ruminate on it. We have to learn to put unhappy experiences behind us and move on. In summary, women need Awareness, Assistance and Autonomy for achievement and these are the basis of the Womentorship curriculum in the program that I sponsor.

Tell us about Womentorship and how it is making real difference.

When I was making my way in my career there were no women higher than me in the corporation to turn to and I needed someone to whom I could go for advice. Thus, I looked for men who had wives or daughters breaking into management as I knew they would be sensitive to my situation. It worked out well as I was lucky enough to have a great number of male individuals who opened doors for me, promoted my accomplishments and included me in meetings. Later in my career I did a lot of mentoring in my department so it was natural that I would continue after I left corporate life. In fact, I was doing so much that I couldn’t handle the volume. So I turned to my alma mater, the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan. We made an agreement that they would administer my model for a women’s mentorship program and I would fund it. The ‘Womentorship’ program is my way of giving back. Each year we match aspiring young women with more experienced women to form a mentorship relationship. Throughout the year we offer professional development and networking opportunities and a women’s film festival. We have reached more than 1800 women. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to see young women who have come through the Womentorship program become more confident and openly offer their opinions; put up their hands and volunteer for assignments; take a risk by leaving unsatisfactory positions to start their own businesses or form a valuable network. Most of all I have watched them become more of themselves, leave their frustrations behind and live fuller lives. Best of all women who have entered our program as protégés have come back to mentor others. It truly is a winning legacy.

You are one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame members. How are has this changed or reinforced the work that you do?

With recognition comes responsibility. I was delighted with the Top 100 Hall of Fame acknowledgment but also know that the universe bestows these honours so that we can use our position to help make the world a better place. I do that through my Womentorship program but also through my writing and speaking. My theories of Masculine and Feminine Energy are a bit far out for many (especially men) but the recognition that I have as a business person makes it more difficult to dismiss me and my thoughts. Also, we extended our Womentorship program to women from Afghanistan which was ground breaking. It wasn’t easy to get visas and certainly the credibility of this award helped convince officials that our program was legitimate. The four women who came to Canada for a month of mentorship with successful women were astounded at the number of female leaders in Canada. When asked how we accomplished this one of the women in our legislature said, “we stood on our mother’s shoulders, now you have to stand on ours”. That’s how it works. Many of the things that were seemingly insurmountable hurdles for me are now handled routinely by the next generation of career women. For example, I remember early in my career, being told that I wasn’t going to be included in a sales meeting because I might hear swearing! I fought that antiquated policy, was included in the meeting and women have been attending sales meetings at that company ever since. I believe that it is important to share these stories so women know that while they might face obstacles they can overcome them and have good careers. My recognition as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame members gives me the platform to offer this inspiration.

How did you maintain a work/life balance?

I had two daughters 18 months apart and at the time had a demanding job with lots of travel. Because I was the primary bread-earner in our family I only took six weeks off with each child. I tried to go to every meeting to be a good executive, while also expressing milk on the road, in an effort to be a good Mother. It was a recipe for disaster as I got very run down and eventually caught mononucleosis. My recovery, which should have taken 3 weeks to 3 months was slow to non-existent. After more than a year I was diagnosed as the first person in our province with Epstein Barr Syndrome. While I was happy to know that I was actually sick and not crazy, I was distressed to learn that there was nothing that traditional medicine could do for me. That’s when I took my healing into my own hands and learned to meditate. Each day, for 20 minutes, I sat quietly and visualized my body healthy and it worked! First, my boosted immune system protected me from catching every cold and flu that went around and then I recovered my previous energy levels. That was 30 years ago and meditation is a practice that I continue to this day. After that experience, I realized that I couldn’t do everything perfectly. I relaxed my standards and looked at ways to balance work and home during the child rearing years. My solution was to try to do reach two goals at once. If I wanted to talk with a girlfriend we did it on a walk so I was getting my exercise at the same time. I spent time at the dining room table colouring with my kids to allow me time with them while feeling that I was doing something creative. I let my kids help with everything (which meant giving up on perfection). I really focused on never beating myself up or feeling guilty. In that way I balanced positive self-talk with the never-ending list of things to do . I also learned to compartmentalize- My goal was to be fully present when I was with my children but not to worry about them when I was at work. Finally, I couldn’t have done it without a supportive husband who did far more than his fair-share with the children. We need our husbands to be intimately involved.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Early in my career our company, which was based on a commodity, was performing badly. A man who was a mentor to me took me aside. He told me there would be layoffs but that I should hang in with the company. Using his wealth of industry experience, he said that our product was cyclical, that we had good assets, that our industry would turn around and that I was destined for a good career with the company. Shortly thereafter, he was a victim of the layoffs. I continued with the company but it was a difficult place to work: budgets were slashed; people were trying to make others look bad so they could look good in case of another layoff; wages were frozen and the reduced workforce increased the workload of every individual left. In the midst of this I was offered a job at a different company. I seriously considered taking it but the advice of my now-departed mentor rang in my ears and I decided to stay put. He was proven right. The market did turn around and I was rewarded with an increase in title and salary. A mentor’s experience provides a broader horizon and each of us benefits from looking at the world through their eyes. Earlier I mentioned being excluded from a sales meeting on the basis that I might hear swearing. It is worthy to note here that a different mentor was an important part of getting that decision reversed. These are two examples of mentors who were an integral part of my career success bit there were many. They have spoken up on my behalf to secure me a higher bonus, awarded me projects so that I could demonstrate my abilities and offered advice on when was a good time to have a baby!

Which female leaders do you admire and why?

I am a big fan of Aung San Suu Kyi. For many years I wanted to go to Myanmar but refrained from planning a trip there while the military had her under house arrest. When she was finally freed and became an elected official, I admired her ability to set aside the harsh treatment she received and work in the government alongside the people who imprisoned her. Her focus is democracy for her people and she is able to rise above personalities to focus on making steps to achieve the principle. I also admire Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the book “Lean In”. While she has been criticized for representing an elite group she showed courage and vision in using her position to speak out on what it is like to be a woman in business. She could have ignored the issue and carried on making millions but she opened the door for important conversations. For example, she was open about her lack of confidence, which is something that far too many women battle. I also admire Arianna Huffington for her encouragement of women. She rightly tells us to get enough sleep, say “NO” and ignore the obnoxious roommate in our heads. Like Sandberg, she could have continued to run her media empire but she has stepped out and used her position to change the role of women. Both are great examples of my former statement that with recognition comes responsibility. Who couldn’t admire Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who was gunned down by Taliban for going to school? Not only has she spent many years fighting for the right of girls to get an education she is now using her notoriety to encourage peace and dialogue on the importance of girls getting an education. I also commend any woman in politics, regardless of the party, as I believe that women are still unfairly maligned in that world. Again, we need these trailblazers.

Which words sum up where you have got to today?

People-oriented, intuitive, creative, generous, focused, hard-working, determined.

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