Part of Us

Part of Us

Part of Us Group Exhibit at the Foyer Gallery

Hope this blog finds you well.  Last week was very productive in the studio, working on numerous canvases, in part to prepare for my upcoming Group Exhibition, A Part of Us, at the Foyer Gallery from June 4 to the  23rd.  Yes, even in the arts, there is nothing like a deadline to get the juices going!   The title, A Part of Us, reflects the intimate relationship between the artist and their art.  Each piece presented is a depiction of a facet of an artist's inner world that is brought to life through movement, colours and shapes.

Throughout the blog, you will find pictures of my paintings that are currently on exhibit.  You will see that I opted to show floral paintings.  The 10 other local artists participating in this event are all very talented and are exhibiting photographs, oil and acrylic paintings as well as mosaics.  I hope you can stop by to see the beautiful local art.  I will be on site Saturday and Sunday, June 15th and 16th from 10am to 1pm. Who knows, you may have a coup de coeur with one of them!   More information on the poster below.


Tearing Down Social Constructs

Stepping away from my position as a senior leader in the public service has allowed me to think about some of the challenges we faced as leaders in a different way.  As mentioned in my previous blog,  the hamster wheel that most leaders are on tends to be all consuming, making it hard to make the time to reflect as one should.  Admittedly, it is easier to assess a situation when you are out of it or looking back.

Over the last six months or so, I have been supporting/coaching a number of women leaders.  From the young manager or executive who wants to discuss their professional next steps to the older women who are either facing challenges at work or are debating what to do career wise prior to retirement, there is one theme that keeps coming back and one advice that I seem to be giving over and over again:  be more selfish.

24 x 36 inches acrylic painting on a 1.5 inch deep canvas by Ottawa-based artist Mireille Laroche


As women, we are conditioned to give and more often than not, to put others in front of ourselves. Whether it be our children, ageing parents, partner and even work, there is an implicit belief, in many of us, to accept the work being piled on, while keeping the expectations that everything will be done and nothing will suffer.  Despite the progress made by women over the last 60 to 70 years, this undercurrent is still very much present in societal norms. 

48 x 30 inches acrylic painting on a 1.5 inch deep canvas by Ottawa-based artist Mireille Laroche


I will readily admit that I was like that for most of my working life and while it did bring me professional success, there were also costs associated with it; mainly  with my health and my ability to know and use my own voice.   The key question is do I regret it?  Yes and no.  I don't because I don't think I could have done otherwise and I learned so much in these high pressure jobs where you pretty much have to be on call 24/7.  You get satisfaction from being in the action, in the know and excelling at what you do.  This being said, it is not on the spot that you realize what you missed but afterwards, later in life, when you gain greater perspective.  I regret it in the sense that whether you go or don't go to your sons' recitals because of work, the only person who leaves something on the table is yourself.  Employers tend to reap from your decision and may reward you in the short term, but this is not guaranteing any form of loyalty or recognition from them. You thus need to be aware of why you do it and for whom.   

I get it when women tell me things like, “my bosses asked me to take on x and y, without any additional resources”, “I am not going to say no” and “after all, they know, as well as I do, that I will do it and deliver”.  And, more often than not, they do and it is rewarded, at least in the short term.  Long hours, doing the extra mile on weekends and holidays is still seen in many industries as a sign of being dedicated, driven and having potential.  It is a strong cultural aspect of what it means to have potential and being a leader in many organisations.

Granted, some men also have this approach but I would argue that it is less prevalent as it is less culturally or socially driven in the DNA of the male gender.
Supported by a patriarchal system, men have a much easier time negotiating, and affirming their needs and wants.   Typically when a man expresses concerns, he is not typically seen as "difficult" or not wanting to "do what it takes", as it is at times the case women with similar concerns.
Original 12 by 24 inch acrylic painting on a 1.5 inch deep canvas by Ottawa-based artist Mireille Laroche
Having a ‘I can take on the world, I am woman’ mentality has many downsides. First, it hides significant structural issues within organisations. Overworking your best talents gives the impression that there are enough resources for the work required to be done. Often, the work effort required for a given job is only revealed when the person leaves and at times, they have to be replaced by more than one person.  I have been replaced by two people in the past and I know many women who were too when they left their job.


Changing Colours. Original 14 by 14 inch acrylic painting on a 1.5 inch deep canvas by Ottawa-based artist Mireille Laroche. 


At the individual level, I have to come to realise that it makes for suboptimal leaders. This is a bit of a strong statement so let me explain. Taking everything on often means that the leader does not properly delegate the work and ends up doing a lot of busywork as opposed to working at the strategic level. It can discourage your employees, particularly those with a lot of potential and drive, and have negative impacts, such as burn out, the individual not developing as a leader and/or learning to focus on the right things.
Original 36 by 36 inch acrylic painting on a 1.5 inch deep canvas by Ottawa-based artist Mireille Laroche
Moreover, by not having the hard conversations such as ‘no, this does not make sense without additional resources’, ‘is this the only option or can we look at how we do things’, ‘I already have too much’, etc., the development of the skills to speak truth to power, have difficult conversations, set boundaries and ensure long-term sustainability is hindered. It also conditions the employer to set unreasonable expectations and not expect any pushbacks from this leader or employee. So, when it happens, often late in a career, when there is a level of frustration that has accumulated over many years and the person has no longer anything to lose, it comes out awkwardly, and unfortunately, it is often seen as resistance from the employee. Or being difficult and in really bad situations, you may hear 'it must be her hormones acting up!"  After all, for years, the employee has demonstrated a behaviour of accepting anything that is thrown at her, and the employer has come to expect it. It becomes part of the culture. More often than not, women get the message that you need to move mountains if you want to move up, have the opportunities and be seen as having potential. And certainly, you don’t complain about it.


When I talk to women, they are fed up and some of them have been pushed aside because they wanted to change  or question the rules of the game. Something that is largely being done by one gender on a daily basis - expressing needs and wants and discussing working conditions - is not seen as a positive attribute for the other gender. And when you add other attributes that form a person’s identity, such as being racialized, with a disability or Indigenous, then, unfortunately,  the adverse impacts are compounded.

The circle has to be broken and the only way to break it is to be selfish as women leaders.  And by selfish, I mean to express our opinion much more readily and to, stop taking things on for fear of being ‘punished’. Setting barriers and teaching our employees of all genders how to express these needs respectfully, developing options about how the work can be handled, and expressing that it is ok to have boundaries with respect to work.

We talk a lot about employees’ low morale and how society and the world as a whole, is going down in the gutter. This comes from a sense of lack of control. I would argue that we have become complacent and have lost, in many instances, the ability to determine our values and priorities in life. When you standup for yourself, it is a direct affirmation of your self- worth. Like a pebble thrown in a lake, it generates rippled effects across all aspects of our lives.

For my women leaders and employees, we have to deconstruct centuries oindoctrination that we come last and we will only be appreciated if we are doing what others want and put them before ourselves. Too many professional women are arriving at the end of their career not knowing their voice, exhausted and frustrated by the fact that they gave everything to an ungrateful system. The “system” will change only when we admit it is broken and that we begin to use our voices to make it better.



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