University presidents on International Women’s Day: Vianne Timmons

March 8, 2022
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Vianne Timmons, president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University, reflects on her experiences as a female leader and gives advice for future generations of women.

What are the benefits to having women in leadership?

Leaders need to reflect our society. Currently does not. For example, we still have less than 30 per cent women university presidents. This number has been slow to grow. Institutions benefit from different styles of leadership and leaders with different lived experiences.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I could mention dozens of stories and challenges I faced and there are different barriers at different stages. You have to deal with gender discrimination at every step on the leadership ladder. Those women rising up the ladder face more overt criticism about what they look like, what they’re wearing, their voice or other inconsequential details. More women also face the challenges of life-work balance as was clearly demonstrated by the pandemic’s “she-cession.”

How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader?

When I became the first women dean of education at UPEI the president was a woman and I received amazing support from her. Her unwavering commitment gave me confidence. So when I became president, I wanted to use my position to promote leadership for women and I’ve done so ever since. Mentoring is so important for new women leaders. It’s helpful to have someone who not only supports you, but promotes you. Then pay it forward.

How do you balance career, personal life and interests? Is balance possible?

I wish I had done better when I was younger at maintaining a balance. It’s very difficult. Experience new things – I took up running at 40! I walk to work almost every day and that energizes me. Work without guilt. Learn to compromise; learn to leave work at work. When I was with my kids, I was 100 per cent with my kids; when I was away they had a globe so they would know where I was.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Surround yourself with people who lift you up, and sometimes hold you up, because you’re going to encounter people in this world who are going to try to pull you down. Find people who celebrate your accomplishments, join in your celebrations, listen when you need an ear and put their hand on your shoulder.

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Tagged:  Equity, diversity and inclusion

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