By Coriandre Lawrence
In a recent sit down with Centennial College president Ann Buller, the Courier got some answers to several questions, all pertaining to women pursuing higher education. On a more personal note, Buller also spoke about her own experiences while attending college.
According to Statistics Canada women represent the majority of students in most disciplines within universities and colleges. However women are still marginally represented in comparison to their male counterparts in managerial roles. The stats suggest that the post-secondary female populous does not necessarily equate to a large number of female leaders in the Canadian workforce. Ann Buller is one of the few female college presidents in Ontario and also one of the top earners as well. So what was her journey like and what’s her take on women being leaders?
When did you first figure out that working in the college system was your passion?
I took my first job at a college because frankly it was a job and it was in my field. I was very, very, lucky in my career… because people gave me chances. So it’s another piece of advice I would give to people, don’t be afraid to ask to do something different. I think the day that I really had a light bulb go off was in Nova Scotia when my boss at the time said to me, ‘what do you really want to do for Canadian colleges?’ I came to the realization that had there been an affordable and quality college in my own back yard… I don’t know if I would be here… I went through a list of what mattered to me and he said ‘I know the job that will let you do it and it’s the job of president’… At various points little light bulbs have come on and led me to other places.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman throughout the journey of pursuing your post-secondary education?
I don’t know if my particular case would be any different from a lot of other people, because the biggest challenge for me was finding money to go to school and having to work all the way through. Wanting to do the typical things of getting good grades…so for me it was just the ability to manage work and find the money to go to school. But for a lot of women they are trying to fit this in with all the other challenges they have in life.
What’s your advice to women pursuing their post-secondary education, especially in nontraditional fields?
I absolutely believe you have to do what you love…life’s too short. My first advice to anybody is, if you know there is something that you love, that just gets you so excited, then focus on it. How do you get in that field? How can you make it work? (Women) are often raised to do what we’re told and at times to do what society expects of us… We need to ask for help, we need to use mentors. There are a lot of women much older than (us) that we can learn from. Lastly, you have to learn to be yourself.
Many would say women are slowly becoming the movers and shakers in today’s society, where does this leave men?
The last time I looked (women) were still less than 15 per cent of those sitting in the corporate boardrooms and if you look at the salaries over the 2000s university educated women actually lost ground compared to their male counterparts… So there’s a perception that we’re farther ahead than we are and in some communities the gap is significant. In an egalitarian society, or at least one that would like to be egalitarian, if you take the passions, the energies and the talents of 50 per cent of the population and unleash them, I don’t understand how that doesn’t help everybody. If you look at countries where women are not allowed to participate, where they can’t vote, where they can’t drive, where they are marginalized, where even their birth is seen as something that takes away from the family as opposed to giving to it and you look at the data, they’ll tell you that the best thing you can do to improve society as a whole is to educate young girls and women. For me, what does this do for men? It gives them extraordinary partners who see the world differently.