A Heart as Big as the Ocean
Stephanie Wiens is the businesswoman behind Summit Organizational Development, an organization working with leaders to create healthy and productive workplaces through leadership development, team development, and human resources.
With much wisdom and heart behind her story, Stephanie sat down with Shift’s founder, Meg, to share how motherhood took her from commuting downtown in her fast-track credit union career to life in the country running a full-service Leadership and HR consulting firm…
Meg: Your core purpose for Summit is to foster healthy and productive workplaces. Why is this important to you?
Steph: Well it’s incredibly important to me because I believe that work has a ton of implications in our life. It can make life beautiful or it can make it incredibly difficult and complex.
It’s not possible for us as human beings to leave our experiences in boxes. When we talk about leaving work at work, it doesn’t work that way. It’s just naturally going to spill into other parts of our lives.
If the experience at work is positive and meaningful, we will bring that into our homes and our relationships. When homes have healthier engagement, ultimately it impacts our entire community.
Meg: What can workplaces do to create healthy and productive workplaces for new parents?
Steph: It comes down to empathy. Leaders who lead with empathy understand that their staff person is going through a tremendous transition going back into the workplace after having a family. We’ve all gone through some form of transition where our heart is pulled into two different places at once. We can all relate to that. From that place each leader would have the capacity for empathy.
Then there are all the practical things; giving people time, being patient with the transition, speaking clearly about expectations and hopefully keeping those expectations reasonable, while also honouring the fact that the company needs performance from its employees.
If your baby is sick, you’ve been up all night, a wise employer is going to realize that’s not going to be your most productive day and can recognize we can catch that up, to not panic and to be patient. Flexibility and logistics can be a really great way to support your team.
“When my family came along, it just seemed like I could not enjoy my work anymore in the same way because I felt like my heart was in two places.”
Meg: I’m curious to hear why you chose to pursue an entrepreneurial path. What was your inspiration for this work?
Steph: It’s funny, I chuckle to myself because I never sought out to be an entrepreneur. I grew up with a very entrepreneurial dad. It never was something that scared me because I grew up in that environment. But it was never something I was highly drawn to, mainly because I loved my career.
What really was the changemaker that converted me from employee to entrepreneur was having my family. I had my first baby and at that time my career was on the fast-track. I had enjoyed a long career in a credit union system. My responsibilities were growing. I had tremendous opportunities being given to me. I was working downtown in Winnipeg so I had a long commute and I always loved that.
When my family came along, it just seemed like I could not enjoy my work anymore in the same way because I felt like my heart was in two places. I made the decision to resign from my position and that was an agonizing decision. But I knew it was the right one.
I did contract work at first, which was amazing and gave me great stability for my life as I started up and over time the business grew.
“My family drives me to do the work that I do. They are my greatest source of inspiration that pushes me to move the needle daily and fulfill the core purpose of Summit.”
Meg: Tell me about your family. How would you describe family life?
Steph: I know that one day my children are going to be in a workplace. I want that to be work that is purpose driven, meaningful, and in an environment where they can truly achieve their full potential.
My oldest son, Sonny is seven. He is driven, sweet, funny, and determined. I love his strength and tenacity. He perseveres. He has this incredibly resilient character. My youngest son, Tobin is six. Tobin is a wonderful, goofy, sweetheart. He’s got a heart as big as the ocean. He is kind, empathetic, and always thinking about others. Together they have these amazing qualities. I have a lot of respect for them both and love them to pieces.
My husband, Tom, is a paramedic. We’ve been married for 14 years this summer. He is the love of my life, my sounding board, my soft place to land. In my business I bounce almost everything off of him because he is very wise, really supportive, and he gives great advice.
My husband works shift work so that makes time together really sweet. We get lots of it but it’s really scattered. It doesn’t always happen on a Saturday like normal families. We love just spending time together.
Meg: What career advice would you give to other new parents?
Steph: I think the number one piece of advice is to give yourself a lot of grace in figuring it out. It’s going to take some time. It’s a new normal.
Ask for what you need. Our employers are not going to read our minds and know our struggle. But when we own that piece by being open, in general our employers are supportive when they know what you need. It actually requires a level of vulnerability, because it’s hard for some of us to say “I’m struggling” or “I’m not doing this well and I need help and I need this to look different.” But that’s okay to be honest about it and to be vulnerable. Hopefully that’s met with respect, empathy, and true help.
If we can be honest with ourselves and engage with our family, especially with a spouse or partner, to ask, “Are you feeling supported enough at home? Am I putting enough time and energy into the family?” Hopefully we can receive great support and feedback.
And get a support group. If you’ve got some friends who have done this before talk to them. Go for lunch. Take some time for yourself. Enjoy your life. Make sure you’re always still enjoying your life and enjoying your kids. They’re just so darn adorable and precious.
“It actually requires a level of vulnerability, because it’s hard for some of us to say “I’m struggling” …But that’s okay to be honest about it and to be vulnerable.”
Meg: What’s one strength motherhood has given you that has become a career asset?
Steph: This one’s easy for me. I love this question. It caused me to reflect and hands down the strength it has given me, it has made me much more flexible.
Becoming a mother has made me realize you cannot keep your eye on everything. When my child wandered away from me at a huge fair where there were ten thousand people, (completely horrifying!) I was overjoyed when someone from his daycare was walking back with him because she found him crying on the street. And I realized, it takes a village.
It relates back to work because I am so blessed by the team I work with and their strengths. I’m surrounded with people who quite honestly in many ways are smarter than I am and know things that I don’t know. Sometimes I just need to get out of the way. That’s been a really cool thing to learn. There’s a freedom and enjoyment in that.
You see your child excelling at school and learning these things – I never taught him that! – but he’s learning these things. He’s being impacted by other wonderful people and I just got out of the way and let him go to school. That’s something that’s been really cool that’s translated into my career, into my role as a business owner.
“It takes a village… Just get out of the way and let other people contribute, because often it’s even better than what you could have done yourself.”
Meg: What are you looking forward to in your career right now? What’s your vision for the future?
Steph: My vision for the future is that Summit will continue to grow to increase our impact and quality of product and services to many, many organizations in different areas of the province and Canada. Growth would mean our core purpose is impacting even more organizations and helping them become healthier and more productive…and we’re growing for that reason.
I want to continue to employ and grow an incredible team that maintains the model of a healthy and productive workplace ourselves. And that is not easy. It requires a constant reflection of optics, behaviours, catching the little things, having awkward, tough conversations, letting some things go. It’s just not easy to do it. But it’s so worth it. My vision is that we become a place where everybody would dream of working.
Meg: Do you have any parting thoughts to share about your parenting and career path?
Steph: Part of my journey when I became a mother and looked at starting my own business was a core values exercises that I went through. It helped me to decide the direction that I needed to go and has helped me to remain true to those values, because they are actually written down somewhere.
I’ve learned not everyone is going to understand where you’re coming from while you are staying true to your values, and that’s okay. You are not going to please everybody. We can get weary and exhausted by trying to manage the optics and how people perceive this or that. But at the end of the day we don’t answer to everybody else. We have a few core people we answer to. I think that’s the most important thing to remember otherwise you’ll run yourself ragged trying to please everybody.
For example, if someone transitions back to work after a leave and they realize they’re not going to be successful there, they’ve got to move on. Their boss may not be happy and might say, “You lack integrity because you came back and said you were going to work here and now you can’t.” Meanwhile they are actually maintaining their integrity by staying true to their own priorities.
“Now your priorities are different. They just are. And they should be. Because you’re a parent.”
Meg: That’s always the place I start when working with a new parent – exploring what it is they value. It gives a lot of clarity in all the exploration and decision making. Your values are a compass.
Steph: I think it’s an incredibly important exercise for people to go into when they’re back at work because odds are that their priorities will have shifted. So then how do they realign their priorities to their values? For me, that core values exercise really put me on a different trajectory in my life.
I’d like to extend a warm thank you to Stephanie for sharing her parenting + career story with us. To learn more, visit Summit Organizational Development or connect on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
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