Dressing for the Job You Want — From Heels to Hard Hats with Shawna


If you are lucky in your career, life might surprise you with its grace and bless you with a professional mentor. I received this good fortune in the form of Shawna, whom I met on my very first day at my very first big girl job in corporate communications. Shawna immediately made me feel at ease with her enchanting grin, quirky and offbeat personality, and delightful giggle.

For the next 4 years—and in between 2 maternity leaves — Shawna helped me keep my head above water, showed me how to command a boardroom in style, handle office politics with grace, and find my voice as a confident career woman. Shawna continues to guide and inspire me every day, and I am truly grateful to have such a resilient, compassionate, and fearless female in my corner. I asked Shawna how she continues to pursue and excel in her career, while maintaining a personal life and raising a family.

Working in corporate communications — what does a typical day look like for you?

I know it’s cliché, but I have no typical day. Some days, I am in full corporate-mode including meetings and office work. Other days, I am travelling and working in the field. Occasionally, I have a day of both where I need to switch gears quickly.

My main responsibilities are coordinating communications from strategy development through creation to production and implementation. I also coordinate our internal newsletter, the Hydrogram, which involves writing articles and producing videos. A large part of what I do is meeting with people to interview them for articles and videos, as well as meetings to learn their communications needs for strategy.

What are the best parts of your job and what do you enjoy the most?

Hands down — meeting people and learning about them. Everyone has a story, and if you are a good listener, they will tell you. I’ve met so many interesting people in the 10 years I have been with Manitoba Hydro. I’m also very fortunate to get to see a lot of the operational side and go into places most people don’t – inside generating stations, rural field offices, project camps, construction zones, and some amazing experiences filming videos (rooftops, police escorts, flex tracks, and speedboats).

How do you find the time and energy to continue pursuing your career, while maintaining your personal life and raising a family?

You get better at finding time and using it more wisely – you figure out your priorities and focus on those. Having my husband’s support is crucial. The energy comes from wanting to show my kids, especially my daughter, that women have no limits and to not be afraid to try things.

I am also energized from my work. I have the privilege of sharing people’s stories and I take that seriously. I want my work to represent people’s unique story, or share their perspective.

Do you think there are different expectations put on women in the workplace that men do not have to worry about?

I have not faced different expectations in my workplace, personally. I think for me, you have to have expectations for yourself; and you have to be on the same page as your partner in life. My workplace has always encouraged my work growth and travel, and supported my work life balance.

How did you feel about leaving work for a year to go on maternity leave?

I was ready for both maternity leaves. I was ready for a change and viewed leaving both times as opportunities. On my second leave, I knew I wanted to come back to something new, so I stayed connected and applied for an opportunity, which I ended up returning early for.

Did you have any anxiety about returning to work after your maternity leaves?

No work anxiety — I treated my first return as coming into a new job again. I had a very hard time leaving my daughter in daycare though, and not feeling the immense parent-guilt for that. I balanced that by only working 4 days a week for a while so I had 3 off with her. With my son, I was more confident in our daycare arrangement and my husband took a month to be with him, so the transition was less scary.

How has becoming a mother changed your perspective and outlook towards your career?

After I had a little girl, it was important for me to be a role model for her – to instill confidence and strength in her to pursue her dreams. I know there are times I have to be at work or away for extended time, and I feel like I am not being a good mom. But, I have a really strong support network, and the benefits I can provide for my children from working greatly outweigh what I could if stayed home.

You bounced back into shape quickly after having a baby. How did you lose the baby weight?

It took me about 8 months to get back to pre-pregnancy weight; then I was able to lose an additional 20 pounds and land two sizes smaller. I’ve maintained that through my next pregnancy. I walked every day after I had my kids, mostly for my sanity. I had my daughter in October, so there is nothing like being cooped up over winter with a newborn to get you motivated and out of the house! Walking still gives me time for pause, which every parent needs a couple times a week.

My tip for new mothers – be easy on yourself. You learn pretty quickly in a pregnancy and labour that you can’t control your body or what it’s going to do. It takes time to lose weight effectively. So get out, walk, and breathe, and don’t focus on what you want to change. Enjoy your baby!

How would you describe your pregnancy style? How has your style changed now that you are a mother?

Comfort. I gained 70 pounds with each pregnancy, most of it beyond my control. So, I wore a lot of flowy tops with leggings, but I found my accessory groove. I couldn’t fit a lot of fun clothes or shoes, so I really honed my accessorizing – hats, earrings, scarves, etc.

I make more of an effort now that I am a mom – again to set a good example for my kids. You can be put together no matter the time of day or activity. My style hasn’t changed so much, as I don’t just come home and put on pajamas as much as I used to.

What advice do you have for other young women that are entering the workforce?

The best advice I ever read was — dress for the job you want. Styles and work culture are less formal than they used to be, but I do feel it is important to show respect for your role and dress appropriately. If you have a business meeting, wear something formal. Conversely, if you are out on a film shoot in winter, wear snow pants and cover up. No one wants a complainer on set.

Tiger Round:

Favourite authors:

— Jennifer McMahon writes good scary stuff; Elin Hildebrand for page-turning chick lit.

What are you reading right now?

—I am starting The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Favourite kid’s store:

— Chapters kids’ section. Books, crafts, and toys!!

Favourite weekend get-away spot:

—My home in the country, something cooking in the oven and playing in the yard with my kids.

Favourite activity with your kids:

— Walks and exploring. They reveal a lot when we’re out walking.