From banking to hard-rock mining, women are beginning to show up in the management ranks of many traditionally male corporations. The numbers of women are still comparatively small and they are not completely accepted in the corner offices of power, but their presence is increasingly being felt. Maclean’s profiles three women of different ages and backgrounds— each of whom found her own way to the top.
In the mid-1940s, Anne Dubin spent one day at secretarial school—long enough, she says, for her to know that being a secretary was not the career for her. “They talked about how important it was to wear a clean white blouse and taught us how to put the cover on a typewriter,” she recalls. So Dubin, 63, and for the past 18 years a partner with Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington, a leading Toronto law firm, went to Osgoode Hall law school instead. She worked hard, was an A student and says that she never had trouble establishing her credibility. Adds Dubin: “Being a woman was never a negative force. I think as a law student I got preference because I was wearing a skirt. Some of the senior lawyers would invite me to attend meetings with clients that some of the male students wouldn’t get asked to. I think I was a little bit of a novelty.”
Shortly after graduation, she began dating one of her lecturers, Charles Dubin, the future associate chief justice of Ontario’s Court of Appeal, who soon became her husband and also her senior partner. She was called to the bar in 1951 and joined her husband’s small but respected firm, where she practised commercial law. Says Dubin: “I was lucky. I got married and I didn’t have to go out knocking on doors for a job. If I had, I would be a fool to say that everybody would have wanted me. I don’t know what would have happened.” Also, for tax reasons, she started out as a partner, an unusual step for a young lawyer.
Eventually, Dubin’s small firm merged with Tory Tory and she became the firm’s first woman lawyer; now, about one-third of its partners are women. Still, Dubin says that she was never particularly ambitious about her career. When opportunities arose, she took on outside responsibilities, including directorships with such organizations as the Toronto Stock Exchange and York University. Dubin adds: “I never had a career plan. I don’t know that I could have controlled anything. I’m not the sort of person who would try to manoeuvre. I don’t think you can, for one thing.”
Still, Dubin says that she is pleased with how her life has unfolded. “Never in my wildest dreams,” she adds, “did I imagine it would turn out like this.” She does not have children and says that she occasionally wonders whether that was a mistake. Adds Dubin: “We just didn’t. It wasn’t a conscious struggle to decide. We were just too busy and too happy.”
Dubin, whose husband was chairman of the recent federal inquiry into the use of drugs in amateur sports, says that she does not consider herself a feminist, which she defines as an activist fighting for women’s rights, nor does she consider herself a second-class citizen. Her advice to young women entering the profession: “Work hard and be decent. Be decent means consider the next person and do not be overly aggressive.”
After Deanna Rosenswig graduated with an MBA from McGill University in Montreal in 1969, she got a job in banking because, she says, “I thought there were opportunities for women in banks.” She was right. Now, Rosenswig, a senior vice-president with the Bank of
Montreal in Toronto, is the most senior woman at the bank, one step below the handful of executive vicepresidents, who report to the president, who reports to the chairman.
Rosenswig says that a woman manager was a novelty when she started, and most of the people who reported to her were men who were considerably older and more experienced than she was. In those days, she recalls, her age was more of a problem than her gender. She adds, “It’s not easy to listen to a 25-year-old kid tell you what to do.”
The banking industry, arguably the most conservative in Canada, has changed dramatically in 21 years. Says g Rosenswig: “I sat in a meetí ing yesterday—it was the I most unusual thing for me— ¡is where the five people present I were all women.” The banks 1 have all committed them“ selves to treating women and minorities more fairly, partly because of the 1986 federal Employment Equity Act. But attitudes change slowly. Rosenswig maintains that discrimination continues, even though it is more subtle than overt. “I’m not even sure that some of the men realize that the reason they didn’t choose someone for a job is because she is a woman,” she adds.
Women have changed, as well. Her generation, says Rosenswig, accepted the idea that women should be patient and wait for a promotion to come along. “The younger women now in the middle-management ranks will not wait one minute longer than their male counterparts to get a job,” she adds. “They see that as totally unfair and unreasonable.” The senior vice-president, who is responsible for a staff of 50, says that the most important thing the bank can do for women is to ensure that they receive the same training and encouragement as men, so that when opportunities come up they are prepared to take them. Rosenswig says that she is conscious of the importance of promoting capable women. “If women don’t promote women, who will?” she says.
On the issue of whether women can aspire to the very top positions and still have children,
Rosenswig says: “If it is true that the senior executive officers of corporations sleep four hours a night and work 18-hour days, then maybe it isn’t feasible. But I think you’ll find that many of those men have incredible hobbies, or they spend a lot of time watching TSN [sports network].”
Rosenswig is married to an accountant and has two children, now teenagers, and the years of her heaviest family responsibilities are behind her—at a time when she is more able than ever to afford household help. She commented: “I never had live-in help. I’ve done laundry, I’ve done toilets—I think that levels people. I think I add value when I go to a meeting and I’ve just done toilets.” She says that she was able to juggle her family and her career responsibilities in such a way that neither was harmed. She says that she always takes her children’s telephone calls, even if she is in the middle of a meeting.
Now, Rosenswig says that she looks happily forward to the time when one of the banks has a woman chairman. She adds, “If I didn’t believe that there will be a woman executive vicepresident at this bank in five years, I wouldn’t be here.”
A metallurgical engineer turned mining executive, 36-year-old Margaret Witte has already had a truly remarkable career. This week, she is in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Geneva, as part of a month-long tour of institutional investors and brokerage houses in the United States and Europe. She is trying to sell $60 million
worth of shares in a new company she controls, Royal Oak Resources Ltd. of Vancouver, to buy two gold mines in Yellowknife, N.W.T., and Timmins, Ont.
For a farm girl from Fallon, Nev., who set out to be a musician, Witte has covered a lot of ground in the first 14 years of her working life. When the music department of the University of Nevada turned out to be a personal letdown, because it was populated by what she described as “long-haired radicals,” Witte switched to chemistry. When chemists at a summer job urged her to become an engineer because they make more money, she listened.
At the time, the university’s mining school was offering women attractive scholarships, and Witte jumped, g Despite the reputation of enj±j gineering schools as the most I blatantly sexist of all universiæ ty faculties, Witte says that Í she had no trouble. “You just have to fit in,” she says. “So I “ worked very hard at being accepted and making friends—I spent a lot of time drinking beer.”
After getting her master’s degree in metallurgical engineering, Witte, then just 21, was in for the “biggest shock of my life.” Mining
companies, which were under pressure to increase the number of female employees because of the United States’ affirmative action quotas, wined and dined her in an attempt to hire her. She chose a production job at a mine in Arizona where she was the first female engineer to work at the site. Soon, bored with the day-to-day operations, she moved on to a job in technology development at another mining company, based in Tucson, Ariz.
There, a senior vice-president in his 60s gave her responsibilities far beyond those usually granted someone of her age and experience. She travelled around the world, wrote reports, attended government hearings and gave speeches. Because she and her husband, William, a consulting mechanical engineer, had always wanted to live outside the United States, the next job she took was at the Mississauga, Ont.-based Ontario Research Foundation, where she was put in charge of hydrometallurgy research. Soon, she saw an opportunity to establish her own research and development company to serve the mining industry, and, in 1981, she opened Witteck Development Inc. in Mississauga. By 1983, it employed 40 people and had revenues of $3 million. Says Witte: “We were very successful in finding different ways to process ores.”
Still not satisfied, she began to consider developing a mine. She found and optioned a property in the Northwest Territories and raised $90 million in bank financing, but when the stock market crashed in October, 1987, she was unable to raise the other $50 million she needed to move into production. Eventually, she sold control to Northgate Explorations of Toronto, which has gone on to successfully operate the site.
Undeterred, Witte, who by then had moved to Vancouver, the heart of the junior mining industry, kept her management team together and began looking for new opportunities. They bought control of a listed shell company, Royal Oak, and then selected two properties, which included gold mines already producing 200,000 ounces of gold a year. With her new company, Royal Oak, Witte, who also plans to eventually fit children into her hectic schedule, has raised the required bank financing, and now again is trying to sell shares.
In the beginning, Witte says that she ran into a lot of skepticism because she was young and a woman. But in retrospect, she says: “Ultimately, being a woman helped a lot. There are so few women in this business that everybody remembers me.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.