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Women in Leadership: Sonia Vance shares why women in finance can develop valuable skillsets and discipline from a dynamic industry

Women in Leadership: Sonia Vance

Sonia’s progressive roles throughout nearly two decades at Maple Leaf Foods have allowed her to become a business partner on key projects — strengthening her representation as a woman in finance.

Sonia Vance is the Leader of Finance at our Winnipeg, Manitoba plant — also known as the Bacon Centre of Excellence! She’s been with Maple Leaf Foods for 18 years, in a role that stretches beyond leading a team by providing day to day financial results at the plant.

As part of her position in finance, Sonia has been a business partner on key strategic projects for Maple Leaf, including a $182 million expansion at the Lagimodiere site. She’s also had the opportunity to provide her own expertise and knowledge to other facilities, assisted in successful Enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations, and has been a key user representing finance on process improvement projects that affected many functions at Maple Leaf.

What brought you to Maple Leaf Foods? 

I’m a curious person and I’m driven to understand how things function and how things are made, so the manufacturing industry was a natural fit. When the position for finance analyst came up many years ago, I jumped at the chance to apply. 

What made you stay? 

There are so many reasons I’ve stayed at Maple Leaf!

I’ve held progressive roles throughout my time here, and even when I’ve held a role for a lengthy amount of time, I can look back and see how the role changed and grew with me. I was given the freedom and support to expand my roles and I was able to carve my own path of development while supporting the Maple Leaf objectives. I’ve always felt a true sense of ownership in what I worked on.  

I’ve also been fortunate to be surrounded by many great leaders in this organization. They invested in me, and therefore I invested in Maple Leaf and others. Paying it forward has been very rewarding. 

The values of Maple Leaf Foods have allowed me to effectively navigate my work, hold myself accountable, and flourish at work. One thing I’ve reflected on in my time here is that I don’t know if the Maple Leaf values shaped me into who I am today, or if I was just lucky enough to find a company with values that fit what I needed to get things done. I imagine it’s a combination of the two, and I do consider myself fortunate to have found that effortless blend of both. 

What is it like running finance at one of our larger plants?

The plant is very complex financially, which becomes very apparent when fielding questions that come my way from various levels of the organization. I lead a team that’s responsible for financial results that fall under two different operating units and the location itself is divided into four distinct production plants. 

Keeping all this financially straight takes organization, time management, perseverance, and a deep understanding of what we do and how we affect the greater Maple Leaf Foods organization. I can honestly say that “It takes a village.” I can’t do it on my own, as I’m surrounded by a very committed local Senior Leadership Team that collaborates and works together with finance, and a wonderful, energetic team that helps me get the financial job done.   

Why is finance such a great career for women or anyone interested in the field?  

Understanding financial information is a key component to being successful in business, so I feel it’s a platform or jumping-off point for many career paths. Whether you spend your whole career in finance roles or venture out into something outside of finance, the basics of interpreting the cause and effect on financial results is a valuable skill set and discipline for any woman to have. 

As a finance leader, you could work anywhere. What makes a role doing finance at a meat production facility special or meaningful to you?

I’ve held finance roles in several different industries such as fast food, agriculture, investments, and food manufacturing. At Maple Leaf, the rewarding part of being in finance is that we don’t just report numbers. As part of all of my roles here, I’ve been part of the conversations, solutions, and implementations that take place. It’s a fast-paced, always changing environment, which allows me to constantly be learning something. Maple Leaf has a continuous improvement approach and I get to be part of that, which excites me. I take pride in acting as a support system to other functional departments and a true business partner to Maple Leaf. 

Why is gender equity so important in the workplace? 

As a leader, it’s important for me to uphold gender equity, even if it’s just in areas I have influence in. If we all do our part, we can close the gap. We should get paid for the job we do, not for who we are.  It’s as simple as that.   

How do you define your purpose at Maple Leaf?

I’m here to support business decisions and discussions by conveying financial information concisely and clearly. I choose to take that a step further and approach it with the mindset of “making people’s lives easier with the work I do.” It drives me to support those around me and articulate financial data in a way that helps others understand our financial position and pivot accordingly. 

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments during your current role?

My proudest moments stretch outside my current role since I am newer to it. I would have to say it was winning two Maple Leaf Annual Values Awards: the Triple Crown Award in 2010, and the Catalyst Award in 2019. It’s hard to put into words how special the feeling is to be nominated by your peers. I know those nominations take time and contributions from many to pull together. What’s especially significant to me, is that my nominations came from those outside the finance team, so I received recognition for my work and input to the business that I learned is appreciated and valued by many that I interact with. 

If you needed inspiration and could have lunch with any woman you admire, alive or dead, who would it be? Why? 

Taylor Swift. I was smitten by her music 16 years ago and have been a huge fan ever since. My desire to meet her is less about her being a music icon and truly about the amazing way she’s built and navigated her career. She’s a businesswoman and everything she does is so well thought out and purposeful, that it’s inspiring to me. I’ve also watched her grow up through her career, while I “grew up” alongside her throughout my own career.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Taylor has brought gender equity and diversity to the spotlight, fought back at sexual harassment, encouraged youth to stand up for what they believe in and have a voice, and fought for herself and those in her industry to own their work and get credit for what they did. All of these are things we should be fighting for in the workplace and in our daily lives.  

Do you have a personal motto?

“Be kind.” We never truly know what someone has on their plate, if everyone wore a sandwich board that listed their struggles, we would likely all be nicer to each other…so why not operate that way every day? Go in with the mindset that everyone is struggling with something, and just offer kindness when you can. The simplest “hi” and smile to someone could be the highlight of their day. 

When you retire, how do you hope you’ll be remembered?   

I hope to be remembered as someone that brightened people’s days with my presence, and helped people develop into their full potential. And if those two don’t ring true, I know I’ll be remembered for my laugh.

What advice do you have for women in the early stages of their career? 

Believe in yourself, know your worth, and own your accomplishments. Women often decide when to go for the next role in their career, once they can tick all the boxes for that role. I encourage you to stretch for that new role, growing and developing in a role is so rewarding, so give yourself the opportunity to have that experience — it’s a gift. 

Secondly, find a mentor or colleague in your career. Someone that listens, and most importantly someone that will give you honest feedback. And when that person says you can do something, believe them, and go for it.