Insights from a Female Leader: Overcoming Barriers in an Industrial Business

August 2017

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This past April, BDO Canada sponsored the Women in Aerospace Lunch & Learn event featuring Emma O’Dwyer, the VP of Market Development and Corporate Affairs at The Matcom Group. Emma and Jeff Noble, director of Business Transition Services in the BDO Special Advisory Services Group, had a fireside chat to discuss her thoughts on what it takes to be an effective leader and her approach to overcoming barriers that women face in leadership in the industrial sector.

With an MBA in International Business and extensive knowledge of international relations, marketing and communications, Emma has worked her way up through several roles at The Matcom Group over the last ten years, starting in the accounting department. The Matcom Group is a privately held machinery services company, headquartered in Vaughan, which provides turnkey solutions for industrial machinery in Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and globally. It offers a full range of professional services, from machinery moving, installations, relocations, rigging, piping and millwrighting, to regular equipment servicing, upgrades and auditing.

Working at a successful, multi-generational family business (Emma’s father, mother, husband, brother, uncles and cousins currently work at The Matcom Group) comes with its rewards and challenges. As a woman in a leadership role in a traditionally male-dominant field, Emma has had to overcome many biases. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Emma was encouraged to pursue post-secondary education and leadership roles.

“The industry is a boys club: a trade-oriented business with multi-generational families. [Traditionally,] fathers pass on the business to their sons. [But] an interesting development in the industry [is that] now there is more formalized training,” offers Emma.

She considers higher education extremely important in her line of business and believes it provided her with stronger focus and leadership abilities. “Having that university and college background brings research and critical thinking skills to the role, [and promotes] the ability to manage talent and people.”

In addition to the gender bias present in the industrial sector, there is also the delicate matter of being a family member involved in the family business. While Matcom promotes a supportive, nurturing work environment and has a tight-knit culture, Emma does say “[There is] added pressure for family members where you feel like you are not deserving of the position and it’s a struggle to maintain work-life balance. Regardless of how hard you’ve worked, some people will still see you as the owner’s daughter.”

Emma’s words of advice for overcoming other people’s opinions of yourself at work? “Respect everyone and have the confidence to know you’ve done all that you could that day. You cannot change people’s minds. Stick to your true self and be proud of what you have accomplished.”

Aside from education, experience and perseverance, Emma brings other unique traits to The Matcom Group. She feels that the business has benefited from having a female family member in a leadership role by encouraging diversity, however incremental.

Emma is a firm believer in patience, empathy and vulnerability — all traits she practices as an effective leader. Her rule of thumb is to “pick your battles and know when to let things happen,” placing emphasis on maintaining the family culture and having a strong, tight-knit team that will succeed together.

Reflecting on her work experience to date, Emma’s advice for other women aiming for leadership roles and those working in family businesses is this: “Don’t take things as personally as I did. Enjoy life!”