She does because she can
AU MBA alumna Claudette McGowan acknowledged as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards™
Claudette McGowan, Chief Information Officer, ETEE at BMO, recalls the story of her then, 20-year-old mother, coming to Canada alone from the West Indies to explore opportunity and build a new life. In Canada, she met her husband, started a family, and became a registered nurse.
“She was the first of her siblings to settle in Canada and when I think about why she came here … and one generation later, her daughter can be recognized as one of the most powerful women in Canada—where does that happen?” Claudette says.
Trailblazer & Trendsetter
On November 22, 2018, Claudette was recognized as one of Canada’s most powerful women and given a Top 100 Award™. Out of 10 categories, hers was a CIBC Trailblazers & Trendsetters Award, recognizing women who are first in their field and making a great contribution Canada’s society.
“I’m grateful for this country and for my company—because they recognized and gave me many opportunities,” she says. “I get that I’m the exception and not the rule, but I do think with the right support around you and your own fortitude, a lot is possible.”
Claudette paired her fortitude with a desire to continually learn, earning herself an MBA from Athabasca University in 2011 while working full-time at BMO, and becoming pregnant with her second child in the last year of studies. She credits the open university’s flexibility for getting her to convocation as she’s quite certain a traditional university could not accommodate everything she was juggling in life.
“That convenience enabled me to shore up my skills and I didn’t have to leave my job,” Claudette says. “I met a lot of great professors and it was that network, community, and availability to be there when you had to — and work remotely when you needed to. I think it made me a better leader, as a result.”
Never stop learning and creating
Claudette’s also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and certifications in IT management, project management, change management, and digital buildings. “In the technology field, if you’re not learning, six months later, you’re outdated,” she says. “So, I am constantly going to school to learn and grow.”
Having worked with technology since she was 15, Claudette’s professional experience includes a variety of industries: policing, finance, health care, entertainment, consulting, and banking.
“I made a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t stay anywhere too long, and I would continue to learn,” she says. “I clued in that if you keep your skills current, and don’t rest on your laurels or fall into some sort of comfort zone, you will provide tremendous value.”
Claudette made an exception with BMO, staying longer than her typical three-year-stint, explaining that in a 45,000-person organization, it’s a “community” and felt like a new company every few years because of all the new opportunities.
As a leader and innovative thinker, Claudette does more than just work, read, and study, she also mentors entrepreneurs, creates events, leads affinity groups to foster connections, and writes children’s books—yes, children’s books—like Freshy and Triple Threat empowering youth to overcome adversity and believe in themselves.
She is especially proud of the Black Arts and Innovation Expo (BAIE) she launched in 2015. Now an annual event, it promotes diversity in the workforce within science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) via a job expo, networking opportunities, and grant and scholarship presentations.
“It was something in my head back when I talked about being the ‘only one’—I’m not now, but I used to be the youngest person in the room, the only woman around the table, the only black person, and there’s certainly a loneliness to being the only person, even when you’re getting all these awards,” Claudette explains.
“I just think, wouldn’t it be great if there were more women at the table having this conversation?” she says, adding that it doesn’t make any sense to talk about issues—women’s or marginalized youth, for example—if nobody within those demographics are present in the discussion.
Helping because she can
BAIE, her children’s books, and launching the first Women in Technology Affinity group at BMO were all fuelled by Claudette’s passion to give others a hand up like many leaders did for her over the years.
“You can put your hand up for help, but someone has to put their hand down to grab you, as well,” she explains.
Claudette helps because she can, due to her means and ability. Many times, people don’t have both. And because she meets and works with so many people every day, she sees potential in all ages, genders, professions, and race.
She also sees a disconnect between job applicants and employers: some job hunters won’t apply for certain positions because they assume their race or gender will take them out of the running, while there are employers desperately wanting more diversity in their staff, yet using traditional job posting methods and sites, reaching the same groups of applicants. And so, Claudette helps connect the disconnected.
Having accomplished so much in life professionally, Claudette is also married to the CEO of a Robotics company and they share two children—a son, 15, and daughter, 9—all who joined her at the TOP 100™ Awards Summit and Gala.
At the event, “My daughter and her friend were like ‘Ya, we’re going be like these ladies,’ and I thought, ‘Of course you are,’ ” Claudette says. “The crème de la crème from across the country were there and it was really nice for them to see so many examples of remarkable leaders.”
It’s evident that Claudette impacts and empowers the lives of all those around her, as an Aurora, Ontario resident and BMO executive working in the heart of Toronto’s business district. Her achievements are impressive—she played a pivotal role in launching the first innovation centre in her hometown—and her future is even more so—currently she’s working on a massive urban campus project for roughly 3,200 BMO employees to open in 2021 within Toronto’s Eaton Centre.
It’s apparent that this Top 100™ AU alumni will never have to worry about resting on her laurels.
“She was the first of her siblings to settle in Canada and when I think about why she came here … and one generation later, her daughter can be recognized as one of the most powerful women in Canada—where does that happen?”