Maggie Head: On Women in Finance, Entrepreneurship and the Value of Coaching

Maggie Head is the epitome of balance, both literally and figuratively, supporting women in finance, coaching, skating (being a former National Synchronized Skating Team member herself) and being an entrepreneur. To say she keeps busy is an understatement. Rotman’s MBA? Check. A busy career in finance and a passion for coaching athletes? Check. All in a day’s work. Plus, making time for mentorship, volunteering and playing with her puppy. Check. She’s got it all covered.

Maggie found time in her busy schedule to talk to The Edge about how she manages it all: constantly coaching and cheering for others, whether it’s on the ice or in the board room, her upward climb in finance, running a business and whatever else life throws her way.

After completing your MBA in 2016, you began working at RBC. The financial market is often fiercely competitive and difficult to break into, especially for women. What advice do you have for women looking to get their start and make a name for themselves?

I’m so supportive of women getting into finance and going after their goals. The one piece of advice I often give is that you’re never going to take the wrong path. You learn from everything. It’s also important to find people who support you and provide true, unfettered feedback. [Don’t] lose sight of who you are along the journey. I’ve been told I walk too confidently and that my voice is too strong. I’m uninterested in changing myself more to fit into a gender role to make others feel comfortable with who I am. I would also tell women breaking into the financial space to know where you want to go and go after it [and] do some true soul searching about what you want out of the role you’re going after.

What are some of the main challenges faced by women in finance?

I know the environment is shifting. We are having more dialogue and discourse and views are changing [but] gender bias is real and still exists. I know we’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we’ve gone far enough. I’m so encouraged when I meet confident, intelligent women that are pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. We have to understand and share others’ lived experiences in order to create success in the future. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be a part of this dialogue, forcing uncomfortable conversations on diversity and inclusion.

In addition to your career at RBC, you also run your own business, Simply Skating, and are a professional skating coach. How do you balance a corporate job, being an entrepreneur and life outside of work?

Being busy is one of the ways I operate best. Every morning, I write intentions for myself [about] what I’m going to do that day. I have different notes for different things—for personal, work and volunteering. On Skate Ontario’s board, my focus has been on encouraging greater sport participation [to support] physical and mental well-being. I enjoy networking [and] have to time-manage effectively. I put my phone away during meetings or [when seeing] friends. I think being present is the most important thing we can offer to others. I [also] have amazing friends and family as support.

In 2020, you coached Team Storm, an adult synchronized skating team representing Canada at Masters Games in Austria, to a silver medal finish. How has your work in coaching transferred to your work in finance?

As a former competitive skater, I’m always willing to learn and be coached. I believe that’s one of the unique things about people who are coached in various aspects of their life—[it] is the ability to be able to take feedback and [implement] it. Teamwork is also so valuable and important. Always being in a team setting has helped me to create a sense of [a] team with[in] any role I’ve been in. Whether through work, volunteering or the rink, I’m able to take setbacks [and] learn from them. This translates to work as well, when things can be done better.

You’ve coached for nearly two decades and were a member of national skating teams. Tell us about the importance for high-achieving athletes, as well as businesspeople, in having mentors or coaches. Who has been a strong mentor for you and how have you been a mentor?

I’ve been coached my entire life in skating and I’ve also been coached throughout my career. I had a lot of encouragement from my parents who were professionals, raised four children [and] made it to all of our sports. I talk to my mom and seek guidance from her as a woman who had a far more challenging path in finance. I worked as a political staffer for many years for Steve Peters (MPP and Minister) and he was a great mentor, pushing my thinking outside the box and always had my back. At RBC, I’ve had an excellent mentor in Gopala “Gops” Narayanan. Gops has helped me navigate the banking world, has acted as a sounding board and has coached me at every stage of my RBC journey. My mentoring is usually on helping people unearth their two-, five-, and ten-year goals as related to work and their personal life. I’ve really enjoyed coaching young skaters with goal setting, building their confidence and performance under pressure. Often, we think of mentorship in just a professional setting, but it’s important to realize that work-life balance is integral.

The pandemic put the lives of many on hold and seemingly created more setbacks than opportunities. How has the pandemic impacted you and what did you learn from it?

The pandemic really gave me the opportunity to slow down. My life was moving so quickly that I was rarely taking the time to stop and appreciate where I [was]. I’ve put my phone in my pocket and I’m not glued to it all the time; I’m having [more] meaningful, thoughtful conversations. It’s been nice to just take some long walks and explore the city and my neighbourhood with my Bouvier, Blue. I’m big on human connection and it’s been so important to check in with people, knowing that the effects of isolation can be significant to mental and physical health. Throughout this pandemic, I learned how truly resilient I can be.

Stephanie Hawkins | Contributing Writer

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