International Women’s Day (IWD) is March 8, 2023. The theme this year is #EmbraceEquity and it is all about valuing and celebrating difference and striving towards a world that is gender equal, diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Credit unions are built on the idea of equity – the very first credit union in Alberta, formed in 1938, was about helping people take back control of their money and ensuring people had access to the financial help they needed. In 1961, credit unions were the first financial institutions to lend to women in their own names. And as of March 2023, more than 35% of senior leaders at Alberta credit unions are women.
So even though there is more to be done to further eliminate bias, break down barriers and advocate for change, Credit Unions of Alberta wants to recognize International Women’s Day by celebrating two inspiring female emerging leaders from the credit union system: Matea Maric, Director Innovation and Government Relations at Alberta Central and Tania Stephenson, Manager Wealth Planning at Servus Credit Union.
Both Matea and Tania are in their second year of the “Emerging Leaders of Alberta” program which is a leadership initiative dedicated to equipping emerging leaders with the tools, skills, and networks they need to guide the Alberta credit union system into the future. We asked them a few questions about what it means to be a woman and a leader and get advice for the next generation.
Read on for their stories!
Q. Tell us about your career path and your current role?
Matea: My first “real” job was working in logistics for Shell, which is very different than what I am doing now. At the time I thought Supply Chain or Procurement is what I wanted to do, but when I got an opportunity with Alberta Pensions Services Corporation, I jumped at the chance to try something different. I quickly progressed at the organization while working closely with government bodies and developed an interest in Government Relations (GR). So, when the opportunity to work in GR at Alberta Central came up, it was an easy decision to join the credit union system.
My current role is Director, Innovation and Government Relations. What I like best about this role is that it is completely new, meaning there is a lot of opportunity to make it interesting and relevant to my own career path. The GR focus is consistent with my experience, but I also get to drive innovation and change at Alberta Central and across the credit union system.
Tania: My current role is Manager, Wealth Planning with Servus Credit Union. I help coach and onboard all the financial planners across the province, sharing strategies, software, how-to’s and supporting their Certified Financial Planner training journey.
I have been with Servus 14 years this March – prior to that I got my Business Management degree and was managing my family business – but when my husband was transferred to Drayton Valley, Alberta, I decided to enter the finance field as I had always had a thing for numbers. I started with Servus as a teller and quickly progressed through all the retail positions.
When I joined the Wealth department, at the time, I was working part-time after maternity leave. There was an opening, and I was interested, but they didn’t have part-time positions so I sent an email to the manager asking to get a shot at the role part-time. I was fortunate because I had encouragement from my peers and the manager was open minded and took a chance on me.
Q. Why did you join the Emerging Leader Program?
Matea: I started at Alberta Central during the pandemic, so from day one it was a challenge to network and learn about the credit union system. So, when I was encouraged to apply for the Emerging Leader program, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to expand my network and get involved in things outside my role.
I am currently in my second year and by far the highlight has been the group work we do. Right now, we are meeting on weekly basis and building strong relationships as we learn together. It has been great to meet and talk to people in different roles than mine, like member-facing staff who can share member experiences, which is great information.
Tania: I was interested in the leadership side of wealth, and I wanted to make an impact, so I was nominated for the program. At the same time, the position I am in now came available, so my first year in the program was also my first year in a leadership role. I was able to absorb all the skill sets covered in year one, like self-awareness, accountability, networking and coaching, as I was living it and breathing it as a new leader.
For me, year one was important as the group setting, conversation and takeaways were very powerful. In year two, I have been fortunate to have a good team with a nice mixture of roles, so everyone has different skills and perspectives. It has been fascinating to see things from a different perspective – I don’t think I would have got that experience if I wasn’t in the program.
Q. What does it mean to you to be a woman and an Emerging Leader?
Matea: I feel a huge sense of pride seeing so many women excelling in this program.
Women can excel and be knowledgeable and confident, while at the same time really understanding the human side of leadership.” – Matea Maric
I see that as being a strength for women in particular: to be empathetic leaders.
In my role, being a woman has not been a factor for me, which I think is a testament to the leadership at Alberta Central and across the credit union system where women are more represented than in other sectors. I have been fortunate in my career to have great female leaders, so I haven’t felt there was a ceiling.
I am grateful for this program, and I see so much value for this initiative and how it can increase collaboration across the system and makes all credit unions stronger.
Tania: Credit unions are good at diversity at the retail level – for example, branch managers, tellers, supervisors – but as you go up the ladder it can be harder to find women and especially women of colour, like myself.
So, I feel that although I have been able to advocate for myself throughout my career, having this program reflects progress. It shows that inclusiveness matters and we are moving forward as a system and industry and are open to hiring different types of people.
It really makes a big difference for people if they can look up, see a diverse leadership team, and feel that there is a space for them at the table as well.” – Tania Stephenson
Q. What advice do you have for other women who are looking to develop as leaders?
Matea: A piece of advice for other women who are looking to develop as leaders is to be visible.
People value expertise, strategic thinking and authenticity, so showcase your knowledge and don’t be afraid to speak out.
To me, being visible means sharing your opinions in meetings, seeking out opportunities to speak at industry events or on social media, and ensuring that current leaders in your organization are aware of your work and accomplishments.
Tania: I would say the first thing is to voice your interest. Many of us, especially women, only share our dreams and ambitions with our close family. At work we do what we’re told, we behave, we’re polite and we wait for people to approach us. If you have an interest in being a leader, speak up.
It’s also important to lean on your peers and other good leaders in your life. You’re not going to do it alone; you need support and buy-in from some advocates around you.
It’s hard work, but if you lead with an intention to make a positive impact you will love what you do. Sometimes women who have families may feel forced to make a choice between being a “good mother” or a “good employee”. But trust that balance can achieved if you’re not afraid to ask for help and willing to do the work to prove yourself.
In honour of International Women’s Day, Credit Unions of Alberta is proud to support two organizations that are aimed at increasing gender diversity.
We have made a $500 donation to the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) Women’s Mentorship Program, which trains and educates women co-op managers from around the world to support their professional and personal growth and to build leadership capacity among women on a global scale.
We have also donated $250 to the Alberta Warriors hockey program which provides top tiered female talent with unparalleled competitive opportunities and experiences designed to offer similar experiences to what has been offered to male athletes.