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Lazaridis School of Business & Economics
Laurier dean gives inspirational talk at Women of Influence luncheon
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
Wilfrid Laurier University School of Business and Economics dean Ginny Dybenko spoke to a room of 200 women yesterday for Waterloo’s inaugural Women of Influence luncheon.
For the talk, titled “Trailblazing Success,” Dybenko shared stories from her personal journey to the top of the corporate world.
“I am honoured to be here with so many esteemed women,” Dybenko began. “Women are amazing, talented, beautiful and impactful human beings, and for the first 30 years of my life I didn’t want to be one.”
Dybenko said that although she now embraces her gender, when she was younger she discovered that boys and girls having equal opportunities was a myth, and saw a much dimmer future for women than she does today.
“My mom taught me that men and women were equal, and she believed it, so I believed her,” said Dybenko. “Imagine my surprise when I got my first job in computing.”
They asked her if she could type. Men with no degrees were leading tasks while Dybenko sat on the sidelines with a master’s in mathematics. When she moved on to another company she found that women were barred from management positions.
“Men completely ran the business world,” she said. Her solution was to “just plain deliver,” and she did, working her way up the corporate ladder and into a number of senior executive roles within Bell Canada.
Dybenko has been called a trailblazer, but she prefers to think of herself as a “shift disturber” – someone who changes the workplace to create an environment where ideas both big and small are actively sought.
Workers tend to be treated as “tools of production,” she said. They are considered “low on the totem pole” and their ideas unimportant. When Dybenko was working for Bell, she had 1,200 engineers reporting to her at one point.
“They were very unhappy, we would lose one to two a week,” she said. So she met with them, and asked them what they would do if they were boss for a day. “It was natural for me to build a cooperative family where everyone had a voice. I became a facilitator, not a boss.
“And boy did I learn a lot!” she said.
She continued to explain that “shift-disturbing” is a management style, and “it starts at the top with your leadership.”
Inspiration comes from a strong, well-communicated vision, she said. Encourage knowledge workers to contribute, and then listen and act. Give credit where credit is due – it keeps your workers engaged, and engagement “is a straight line to innovation.”
“We respected each other, we had lots of fun, we were creative, and we produced results,” said Dybenko, who, while president and CEO of Bell Advanced Communications, pioneered vital internetworking initiatives that contributed to the development of Internet infrastructure in Canada.
But it wasn’t all a bed of roses. Dybenko fought against three challenges she says all women in business face: invisibility, marginalization and isolation.
“We take on tough jobs and deliver on commitments, and all while raising children,” she said. “By the time I got to my desk in the morning I felt like I had already worked a full day!
“Yet,” she continued, “people just don’t seem to recognize your efforts. When we succeed, we do it so well we make it look easy.”
She encouraged the women in the room to not be shy about tooting their own horn, “because no one will do it for you.”
She also said women are often too quick to take on new responsibilities.
“Never feel bad about saying ‘no,’” she said. “It’s one of the harder things I learned to do, but also one of the smartest.”
Most of the time women aren’t marginalized or isolated consciously, said Dybenko, but suddenly the guys are making decisions at pubs or on the golf course when you’re not around.
“Force yourself to get involved in guys’ conversations. Learn golf!” Dybenko said, to many laughs. “You do not have to be good, you just have to dress like you’re good.”
Dybenko continued to share stories of her personal struggles, from receiving four “D”s and one “B” her first year of university to her move from Bell to a high-tech start-up company just in time for the telecom bubble to burst.
“All my successes didn’t teach me anything,” she said. “The best lessons are always learned in failure.
“Work hard to develop your own shift-disturbing management style,” she concluded. “Gather a great group around you, support each other, and know that you are not alone.”
About the Women of Influence Luncheon Series
Since 1994, the Women of Influence Luncheon Series has shared the challenges, dreams and accomplishments of high-profile women in business, government, sciences and the arts. These speakers provide proven advice and inspiration in an environment conducive for women to network, entertain, learn and grow. Yesterday’s event, the first in Waterloo, took place at the Waterloo Inn and Conference Hotel.