Non-traditional Paths

Barb Callander reflects on diversity and inclusion challenges in the workplace.
Women standing in front of food safety whiteboard

Growing up in Flin Flon, Manitoba, a small mining community approximately 800 kilometers north of Winnipeg where my father ran the mining operation, it seemed natural that I would begin my career in Labour Relations. That role would be the first of what would become a long career in manufacturing where, at the time, women and people of colour were few and far between – especially in leadership roles.  

I believe my purpose is to develop the next generation of leaders – across all dimensions of diversity.

Professionally, I grew up in the automotive industry, a definite 'man's world'.  I was often the only woman on the team, in a meeting, or in a room; I was one of a handful of female operations leaders. Often, in the early days, when women crossed the plant floor, we were greeted with whistles, catcalls, pinups and propositions. It was commonplace.

Being "the only" didn't change how I showed up, though. And, while I found ways to navigate through the harassment challenges and change others' behaviours, I decided I wanted to change our culture from the inside out. I served as a chair on a women’s advisory council at a major automotive company, which aimed to develop women in non-traditional roles and attract girls and women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.   

That passion to attract and develop women to manufacturing continues to drive me today. At this stage of my career, as a servant leader, I believe my purpose is to develop the next generation of leaders – across all dimensions of diversity – creating opportunities that unlock the potential of the amazing talent we have and are bringing into Maple Leaf Foods. It's for this reason I serve on the Maple Leaf Foods Diversity and Inclusion Council, am a member of the Women in Manufacturing Employee Resource Group and am the Executive Sponsor of the Leadership Track Program

At Maple Leaf Foods, I have the privilege of leading the team that supports the business in building excellence to drive continuous improvement in operations. Being part of the groups that make our company more diverse, inclusive and where people feel like they belong is one of the ways I hope to add value and live my personal purpose. 

Chances are, most people, regardless of gender, have experienced an "only" moment. I encourage everyone – but especially those who, still today, find themselves "the only" in a group of "the same" – to join employee resource groups at their company and make connections because you are not alone.

A message from Barb Callander, Vice-President of Operations Excellence, Learning & Six Sigma at Maple Leaf Foods.