International Women’s Day: Ciara Chisholm
International Women’s Day 2021 was on Monday, March 8. We reached out and connected with multiple women at NorLand to ask about their own work experiences and what IWD means to them. The responses were so overwhelming and inspiring, that we decided to feature one or two every week on our NorLand News page and social media channels, plus March is “History of Women” month! Teammates Get Treated Like Family, and we are proud to share these experiences and stories of our own NorLand women. This week, we are featuring Ciara Chisholm (Contracts Manager, NorLand).
Contracts Manager, NorLand
What does International Women’s Day (IWD) mean do you?
Although it is seen by many as a celebration of women’s achievements, for me it is about raising the awareness that gender disparity exists and HOW we can change it.
Is your role what you expected to be when you started in the workforce? How did it change?
I started out in the workforce just after graduating with a law degree as a Purchasing Assistant in a tiny electrical firm in Aberdeen, Scotland. I was brought down to earth with a bit of a bump that my degree didn’t automatically entitle me to a high-flying job with a huge salary. I have worked my way up through various positions and corporations to be here in Norland as the Contracts Manager. I had no idea what my career path would do or the challenges I would face, but I am proud to be where I am, if not a little more humble.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your role? How did you overcome them?
Too many to count! Coming from an Oil and Gas background, I have always been working in a male-dominated industry and had the advantage of knowing from the get-go that I would find gender disparity in a lot of places. I think one of the biggest challenges I faced (and still do) is being extremely ambitious, which for a woman can be seen negatively as being ‘‘aggressive” or “arrogant”. When I first started in the workforce I would be talked over, sidelined, and my ideas ignored or even stolen. Standing up for myself appeared dangerous if I wanted my career to progress. If not for several inspirational women in the workforce that I met and worked with, I would not be where I am today. They helped me have my voice heard and taught me to appreciate and celebrate my achievements. Today, I unabashedly challenge opinions and speak out and make my voice heard. It’s difficult and, at times, has damaged relationships but I need to be able to respect myself and be heard if I am to garner the respect of others. The workforce has definitely changed and advanced in gender equality in my time but not nearly enough.
Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career in this industry?
One of the most common issues I see is women tearing other women down. There is a quote from Malala Yousafzai that resonates strongly with me: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back”. As women, we should be working together to help one another – I am not saying we all need to be BFFs and hold hands and braid each other’s hair. I am saying we need to help each other climb. We can do this by collaborating and not competing. Build a ladder and mentor those below you so they can climb and help other women.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
As I said previously, I would not be where I am today if it was not for several inspirational women that I have worked with. Being supported by and mentored by women who have faced the same prejudice as you have is priceless in your career. Celebrate your achievements and those of other women – being a woman is hard enough without beating each other up for being successful!
On IWD, what is the most important message you want to send to young women thinking about their careers?
A quote by Eleanor Roosevelt comes to mind: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Young women will find themselves being interrupted, ignored, debased, and ridiculed when they enter the workforce. Do not take it personally or allow it to make you feel less worthy. This says more about the behavior of others than it does of yours. Find other women that can mentor and support you. Take every opportunity you can – especially the ones you don’t think you’re ready for. You are not going to be handed success on a silver platter – you will have to work hard so don’t make it harder by holding yourself back.
This year’s IWD campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge. How do you think we can choose to challenge the gender norms in our industry?
It would shock you to see some of the pay gaps between men and women doing the exact same job with the same success rate. SHOCK YOU. Many women are woefully unaware of how big gender bias and inequality is. Challenge the gender norms by making people aware. Educate both male and female colleagues about gender norms and how we can tackle them together. This isn’t a men vs. women fight and nor is it just a womens' issue. Gender equity cannot happen without men challenging these norms as well. Women and men at all levels need to commit to advancing gender equity, reflecting on and changing behaviors that contribute to gender inequity and actively engaging in efforts to reduce the disparities across genders.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It is all very well me sitting on my high horse and preaching about change – I want to make it happen where I can and do my part. I would like to invite any women, at any level or role or business unit, to contact me if you need or want career advice, have an idea you want to bat around, or even if you are just looking for another female’s take on a situation. I am happy to share my experiences and support with whoever may need it. Contact me at 604-312-9688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.