Martha Durdin on Rewriting the Narrative of Women in the Workplace

By Madison Dolman

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When pursuing a career in business, oftentimes women face the most unique challenges. While the trend towards women achieving leadership positions appears to be on the rise, gender inequality still runs rampant in the workplace. By undermining the value that women can offer executive positions, many workplaces are suffering from a lack of diversity and inclusion, two qualities that improve both a company’s culture and bottom line. Yet there are several institutions helping to pave the way towards equity, led by executives such as Martha Durdin.

Durdin, President and CEO of the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), has played a vital role in the success of the CCUA since joining in 2014. In a recent Q&A with Bay Street Bull, Durdin reveals the importance of supporting women in the workplace, encourages women to map out their objective career goals, and underlines the many advantages to companies adopting more diverse c-suites.

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As a successful woman in business, who were some of your chief inspirations?

Martha Durdin: I have been inspired by many women who have helped to break down barriers and pave the way for the rest of us. Although my generation has made great strides in the workplace, it is the generation before me that really had to fight to build their careers. During WWII, my mother successfully ran the family business but had to make the tough decision to quit when her husband came home from the war. She never really got over it and that inspired me to find my own way and build my own career.

What are your thoughts on breaking the glass ceiling and how can we encourage other young women to feel empowered in the workplace?

Martha Durdin: Representation is important. When women see other women – and greater diversity across all fields of endeavour – being supported in the workplace, it helps to break down barriers and create that empowerment. Leading by example can also have an impact. At CCUA, our leadership team is 66 percent female.

What steps do Canadian credit unions take to support female employment and empowerment?

Martha Durdin: Canadian credit unions strongly support female employment and empowerment and have a long track record of doing so as we were the first financial institutions to lend to women in their own names. We’re proud that 34 percent of credit union board members and 30 percent of CEO/GM positions are held by women in a time when only 8 percent of leaders in all Fortune 500 companies are women.

One of our core internal initiatives is the CCUA National Mentorship Program, which has a women-focused stream that provides female employees and directors additional support from industry leaders to take the next step in their professional careers.

Another example is in 2020, Conexus Credit Union signed the Saskatchewan Women Entrepreneurship Charter. This initiative aided female entrepreneurs in closing the gender gap in business ownership, following a long history of credit unions being at the forefront of female financial independence.

What was the most significant barrier you faced in your career in terms of gender equality?

Martha Durdin: Early in my career, working in a male-dominated industry definitely presented its fair share of challenges. My interventions were not always heard, and it was difficult at times to juggle work and a young family. This taught me an important lesson to stay true to who you are and let your efforts and results speak for themselves. And I’m proud to see how far myself and other female leaders in the credit union system have come, with 30 percent of CEO positions in the credit union system now held by women. At the end of the day, it’s about a person’s capability, not their gender.

What shortcomings still exist in the corporate environment and what steps can be taken to rectify these?

Martha Durdin: While we have come a long way in opening the door of opportunity for women, there is still work to be done. We need to continue to work to bridge the gender pay gap in some sectors and increase opportunities for inclusivity to strengthen women’s voices both in and out of the boardroom. By providing women leadership and training opportunities/programs, we can empower women to overcome systemic barriers, build financial independence and have the confidence to take charge of their professional lives.

Can you provide us with a piece of advice you have for other women wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Martha Durdin: Women have an opportunity to lead the charge in rewriting what the modern workplace should look like. I encourage women to start creating their own opportunities. Surround yourself with a supportive network of female mentors and look for ways to help other women climb the corporate ladder. Forming strong bonds now will pay dividends in the long run.

Martha Durdin is currently the President and CEO at the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA).