Tina Gardiner, Manager, Risk Management Services, The Regional Municipality of York
The experience left a sour taste in Tina Gardiner’s mouth.
While with a different employer, Gardiner, who is currently the manager of risk services for York Region in Ontario, was told she was in line for a promotion. “I was told that I was going to be moving up to be the next level director and that the job was there, the job was mine if I wanted it,” she said.
Except there was one issue. She was pregnant. “They decided they couldn’t wait for me to come back.”
Gardiner didn’t get the promotion. After she returned from her four-month maternity leave, she went back to her regular role.
“That was really the first time I ever got smacked in the face with it,” Gardiner said, referring to barriers women face in the workplace. “That didn’t feel good; didn’t feel great. I went back to the job and I stayed there for two more years because I liked the people, I liked the job. But, yeah, that was my first time really feeling that.”
Gardiner is now the director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS)’s board of directors, suggesting that she has emerged from that bitter experience undaunted. She has had an active professional life, even while raising two girls. She has been a member of the Ontario Chapter of RIMS, serving on the board and as president for several terms, has served as chair of the RIMS Canada Council, and has been an instructor for the Insurance Institute.
While her children were very young, Gardiner took over the role of chair for the 2010 RIMS Canada Conference in Toronto. “I’d work all day at my job, and then I’d work quite into the evening on that job,” she said. “I put that on myself, so that was a choice.”
She had a good partner at home who was always there to help along the way. “I was lucky that my husband and I had that trade-off because we were both building our careers at a young age,” Gardiner told Canadian Underwriter. “And it’s really difficult to do. You really do have to have a good partner.”
Unfortunately, she said, much of the home workload and family responsibilities often fall to the woman in the relationship. This has forced some women to lose out on opportunities for networking and expanding their e contacts because they couldn’t go out for drinks after work or attend an event, or even to the golf course.
There’s still a bit of an imbalance, generally speaking, but it’s getting better, Gardiner observed. In order to see great improvement, women need to be there to help other women rise up. Celebrate them, she said.
“We need to open the doors. So when you see a young rising professional, open the door. Bring that person along,” Gardiner said. “Coach them, mentor them, take them to networking opportunities and help them build that network — that’s the hardest, most intimidating part. If you have the right personality for it, you’re going to find it. But if it’s not [within] your comfort zone, [then] let’s help each other do that.”
Another way women can help each other is to team up at events, since, as Gardiner observed (more so in the past, she qualifies), it wasn’t uncommon for women to hear inappropriate remarks directed toward them. Some women could let the so-called jokes roll off their backs; others were put in awkward or uncomfortable positions. Having a good professional event partner can help.
“There are a lot of women intimidated by that, frightened by that, and who probably stopped going to those networking events,” Gardiner said. “So, pairing up to take people to networking events — having that ‘wingman’ — made it safer. It was unfortunate that you had to think that way, but thankfully it is really changing.”
Indeed, she is seeing a change in how women are being treated. “I really like to think that, generationally, we’ve raised — I won’t say better men, but more aware men. I think we’ve done a better job of building that awareness and changing behaviours. We as women need to support each other when we see inappropriate behaviour still happening. We are also getting rid of some of the other gender-based biases.”
Gardiner is referring in part to the unconscious bias that can keep women from accessing higher executive positions. She’d like it to be a more common occurrence for people to see women in senior leadership roles. “Normalize that,” she said, while acknowledging that the insurance and risk management industry has made great strides over the years. “There’s a lot of really strong, well-positioned women.”
Companies need to normalize other areas, she said, like parental leave so both men and women can take time off to care for their children.
“Companies also need to commit to doing salary reviews and to ensure they don’t have inequities there. I think that’s still a big thing,” Gardiner added.