Career (and life) advice from finance and tech dynamo, Claudette McGowan

"You’re only 28 once — and you can’t go back. So when you’re in that moment, make decisions that you can be proud of.”

"You’re only 28 once... So when you’re in that moment, make decisions that you can be proud of."

(Courtesy of Claudette McGowan)

If you, like many of us, are hesitating to make a career change, wondering if it's worth it to spend the time learning that skill you've always wanted to, or tackling other personal changes, Claudette McGowan may inspire you. "I play in many spaces," she says. "I think it's so [important] to have a growth mindset — to constantly have a thirst for learning," says the mother of two and chief information officer at BMO Financial Group.

McGowan's high-profile banking gig is just one impressive element on her CV. In 2017, the executive's passion for all things tech led her to design and launch BMO's first-ever Women in Technology program (an employee resource group behind various initiatives, such as getting more women on boards and supporting women entrepreneurs). She's also a published author of multiple children's books and the founder of the Black Arts & Innovation Expo (BAIE), an annual job fair trying to remedy the tech sector's lack of diversity.

McGowan says her personal experiences are what motivated her to start BAIE. "I've been a manager in technology since [I was in] my 20s," she explains. "When I started out in my career, I was the youngest in the room, I was the only woman in the room and I was the only Black person in the room … For me, I felt like there needed to be more people at the table from different backgrounds: more women, more people of colour and diversity when it comes to age."

Last fall, McGowan was recognized as one of Canada's most powerful women at the Women's Executive Network gala, but she says recognition and acclaim have never been drivers in her career pursuits. "People ask, 'Why are you working so hard?' It's not to win any sort of contest or to [attain] a certain dream in life. It's really about my love of learning."

Invigorated yet? We took the opportunity to chat with this multifaceted powerhouse to get her go-to career advice and tips for success.   

Speak up in the workplace.  

"I think, as women, we have to be able to say in the moment ... that [something's] wrong. In a non-rude way, you have to call things out and say, 'That's not appropriate. That's not cool.' I try and act in the moment. Dealing with things in real time gives me a sense of strength."  

Never devalue your self-worth.   

"I have a very healthy ego. I tell people it's about the music that I listen to and the family that I have. And I have faith and trust in my track record. As I've matured and  come into my own, I've realized that I have a lot of value: I am current on my skills, I understand what is happening in the market — I'm adding value."

Focus on your craft.

"I had a boss tell me once, 'If you really want to get ahead, let your work speak for you.' What you do — your work — is so critical. When something doesn't go your way, reflect on it and then work. Work on your craft. Learn from it. Keep moving. At the end of the day, it's what you do, how you do it and how you deliver results that matter."  

Navigate life with a growth mindset.

"We all have the same 24 hours in the day, and we decide how to use them how we want. Some people sit down, watch TV ...  and others decide, 'Hey, I want to create!' Whatever you decide, that's perfect. For me, I'm driven to create and to learn."

Seize the moment.

"You have to be bold, you have to be courageous and you have to put your hand up. Sometimes we take ourselves out of the running because we think, 'I'm not ready,' or 'What will person A, B and C say? How will I appear?' Just go for it. Don't be afraid to say yes, even if it's not the perfect circumstance. Take a leap of faith. You're only 14 once, you're only 21 once, you're only 28 once — and you can't go back. So when you're in that moment, make decisions that you can be proud of."

Natasha Bruno is a Toronto-based freelance journalist with an obsession for beauty, health and wellness, women's issues and curly hair. Follow her journey on Instagram @natashajbruno.


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