During Kirstine Stewart’s first week at CBC as the Head of English Language Services, a co-worker stopped her in the hall and handed her a piece of paper. Assuming the new executive was an assistant, they asked, “Can you give this to Kirstine, please?”

“Human beings will make generalizations based on traits like gender and age,” says Stewart, adding that this is one of the numerous challenges women face as leaders.

"My journey has been about embracing opportunities as they come and understanding where my skill set would apply to those opportunities."

Though women represent just under half of the Canadian workforce, only 26 percent of Canada’s top 500 companies have women CEOs. And, according to Statistics Canada, women have been consistently earning approximately 71 percent of men’s average annual income since the 90s.

Stewart is no stranger to these struggles, saying that her career often involved working double duty, doing her job in addition to proving that she deserved to be there.

Now, as the Vice President of Media for North America at Twitter, Stewart is sharing her insights into how women can become leaders in any field.  
Defining success

At 19 Stewart landed her first job in media, responding to an ad for a girl Friday position at television program distributor Paragon Entertainment. Seven years later, she was President of the company and eventually moved on to senior positions at the Hallmark Channel, Alliance Atlantis, and CBC. 

Despite her impressive résumé, the media maven says that there is no foolproof guide to making it. Instead, she says, the key is to define what success means to you.

In her book, Our Turn, Stewart encourages women to ask themselves: Am I proud to be part of this industry? Am I learning? Am I adding value to where I’m working? The answers to these questions, which will change with time, can help clarify your next career step.

“To me, the answers to those questions look more like success than a title. In the end, you need to be happy with what you do in a day,” says Stewart.

The time is now

Following her ever-evolving definition of success eventually led Stewart to a role at Twitter, a career path she says she could have never foreseen because it didn’t exist a decade ago.

“The rules are being rewritten and, in many cases, erased.”

“My journey has been about embracing opportunities as they come and understanding where my skill set would apply to those opportunities,” says Stewart.

Now on the inside of the growing tech industry, Stewart says that the required skills have changed to demand a new style of leadership — one where women are naturally suited for the job. 

“The attributes that women have consistently been ascribed are the ability to collaborate, listen, and synthesize information,” she says. “And, that’s vitally important today.”

Rewriting the rules

A few weeks after she was mistaken for an assistant at CBC, Stewart was once again stopped in the hallway. But, this time it was by a young woman who said, “We don’t see a lot of bosses like you… It’s so great to see a woman doing this job!”

According to Stewart, this encounter is indicative of where the future of leadership is headed.

“The rules are being rewritten and, in many cases, erased,” Stewart wrote in her book. “We’re living in a time when the Premier of Canada’s most populous province is openly lesbian, where a black man is the President of the United States, where the founder of Facebook can lead one of the world’s largest companies in a hoodie; and, a woman can run the CBC in heels — high and red.”