Finding confidence and credibility to lead
Athabasca University business grad Michelle Martin wants to help other Indigenous women in business succeed in leadership roles
When Michelle Martin enters a boardroom, she is backed by her education and inspiration to support Indigenous women in business.
Originally from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Martin is a financial analyst at Mamaweswen, the North Shore Tribal Council that represents seven First Nations communities along Lake Huron in Ontario.
Although today she manages a team of 6 overseeing community engagement for Mamaweswen, she hasn’t always had confidence to lead. That’s something she found in herself over time, thanks in large part to her education at Athabasca University (AU), which includes Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business Administration degrees, the latter of which she completed as part of the class of 2022.
“It gave me a lot of confidence and credibility behind my name and my credentials to be able to successfully lead a team,” explains Martin.
“[My AU education] gave me a lot of confidence and credibility behind my name and my credentials to be able to successfully lead a team.”– Michelle Martin (Master of Business Administration '22, Bachelor of Commerce '12)
An inspired vision for her future
The growth and success she’s achieved personally and professionally is something she wants for all Indigenous women. This desire is what led her to pursue a Doctor of Business Administration, also at AU, where she is tackling her dissertation with leadership and representation at the forefront.
A 2022 study on gender diversity and leadership by the Prosperity Project showed that Indigenous women represent only 0.3% of board, executive, and pipeline to senior leadership roles held by women—out of more than 21,000 Canadian women surveyed. The study illustrates the disparity of gender representation existing in boardrooms across Canada today.
That disparity fuelled Martin’s research, which focuses on increasing Indigenous female representation in the boardroom and senior executive positions.
“Traditionally and historically, boardroom representation has been filled by men,” says Martin. “My research has found that women feel they don’t bring value, so they shy away from those positions of leadership.”
From Martin’s perspective, mentorship is key to instilling young women with the confidence to lead. “We need to have women in positions of power who can mentor and inspire other women,” she says. “In my career, I’m big on mentoring others. The ability to create those opportunities is important.”
Martin believes that when Indigenous women see themselves in leadership roles, it paves the way for other Indigenous women to become leaders as well. That is why representation is so important.
“I truly believe that economic development is the way forward for a lot of Indigenous communities—women at the forefront making decisions and leading is going to propel reconciliation.”– Michelle Martin
“If we have more women in these positions, it’s going to amplify and strengthen our community and our ability to prosper,” she says. “I truly believe that economic development is the way forward for a lot of Indigenous communities—women at the forefront making decisions and leading is going to propel reconciliation.”
Martin is intricately connected to her Indigeneity and wants to focus on Traditional Ways of Knowing and making sure that she ties Indigenous historical context into her studies, as well as her view of leadership and management.
One example is looking at the traditional Clan System and how that knowledge can be applied to leadership. “Each clan has its own way of being and defines what the family or community is like, in terms of the strengths they bring and the role they play within a group,” she explains.
Flexibility makes studies possible
Martin’s success as a leader and role model was supported by the flexibility that AU offers. In addition to her career in business, Martin is also a busy mother, so she needed programming that could be scheduled to work around her life.
“It was a natural progression to continue with Athabasca University because I liked the format and the asynchronous environment.”– Michelle Martin
“When it came to me pursuing my master’s, it was a natural progression to continue with Athabasca University because I liked the format and the asynchronous environment,” she said. “I enjoyed not having to be in class and taking a self-directed approach, because I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to completing my studies. It was an easy decision for me.”
Instilling the importance of education
Beyond her academic and career success, it’s important to Martin to set an example for her children. As a lifelong learner, she has earned a certified financial planning certificate in between receiving her bachelor and master’s degrees. The mother of two believes that knowledge is power and that’s why she places a priority on education.
“I always believe in inspiring that desire to have lifelong learning as part of your spirit,” says Martin. “I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I’m hoping that they pick up on that spirit as well.”
Check out more from #AthaU22
Read more alumni profiles from Convocation 2022.