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News May 10, 2022

A Mentor Moment with Heather MacDonald

Canada Solutions and Technology Director; Canada East Operations – Group Lead Manager; and Toronto Office Lead Heather MacDonald shares her thoughts on mentorship, skills for growth and advice for advancement in this Mentor Moment.

Jacobs Women’s Network (JWN), one of our eight Jacobs Employee Networks, is shining the spotlight on various career paths in Jacobs through the voices of talented JWN members around the globe in a new series for called Mentor Moments. Originally published for the monthly “Women’s Network Wednesday” newsletter, featured members are spotlighted each month for their efforts to foster an inclusive environment and represent the strength and diversity of the network.

In the first Mentor Moment for, we meet Canada Solutions and Technology (S&T) Director; Canada East Operations – Group Lead Manager; and Toronto Office Lead Heather MacDonald:

How did you start off your career?

I worked in different locations across Canada, U.S., and Mexico as a summer student for mining companies as a mineral exploration geologist/geochemist, and then full-time for about five years after finishing my M.Sc. I continued to work for a small engineering consulting company, mostly for mining clients, and started to take on different technical, project, and sales roles for the next decade.

How long have you been working for Jacobs?

I have worked for Jacobs since June 2011.

Why is having a mentor so valuable and who do you look to for inspiration and mentorship?

What I took away from my first mentor was learning how to solve problems effectively – thinking about the steps in the process of that solution – and to think about the business aspects of what we do and how that’s important to the end user; not just to focus on my nerdy science-y interest in what the specific project scope is all about. Depending on the advice or input that I’m looking for today, there are too many folks that I reach out to on a regular basis to list – they include our Executive Consultants, our North Region and Global S&T team, other colleagues that I’ve known for my 11 years with our company, and my Canadian and North Region leadership teams for inspiration and mentorship.

What experience would you say has shaped your leadership style the most?

I was brought into an operations role without ever having officially managed people, and my new team was in a different technical area of work than me; I learned to be a good manager by doing a lot of listening. I researched the different technical areas, took whatever I could learn by listening to my team, working with our leadership teams, and by doing my best to take action and help solve my team members’ problems and make their day-to-day easier. Also I had to figure out how to communicate effectively. It took me a long time to figure out that people process information differently, and that different tools are needed for getting the same message across to a group of people with varying skill sets and communication styles. Using several different communication tools and asking for feedback gave me tools to keep working on my leadership style.

What qualities, attributes, or skills do you believe are necessary to be an effective leader?

Curiosity, patience, empathy, humility, enthusiasm, responsiveness, being action-oriented, basic understanding of business acumen, and a realization that we’re all in this together.

What training, tools and/or resources do you believe were critical in preparing you for this role?

I was lucky to have had several roles in our company; technical lead, project management, client account management and sales lead roles, which all provided unique perspectives into our business. My projects and pursuits also tended to be multi-discipline so I had the advantage of reaching out to various global technologists across all of our Business Units to form teams. This team building learning and each role helped me step into the next. I’m still learning.

What significant obstacle have you had to overcome as a woman in order to get to where you are today?

The biggest obstacle in my career, I think is overcoming “imposter syndrome” with stepping into each role and gaining enough confidence to believe that I can provide value. Starting my career in the mining industry, which was and still is male-dominated, it was sometimes difficult to feel like I could provide thoughtful input into discussion as the only female, and the most junior person in the room. But I also had some fantastic leaders who supported and encouraged me on speaking up and providing my thoughts in meetings or discussion – and who would call me out in a meeting for my opinion – and eventually it just got easier to speak up.  At Jacobs, we have an amazing inclusive culture where it shouldn’t be so challenging to be recognized as providing technical, innovative, business, financial and operational value.

What advice would you give other women to get ready for their next promotion or advance?

Be honest with yourself on strengths and weaknesses – not everyone is going to approach each role the same way, and we all have varied experiences and that is all valuable. Ask lots of questions to those that are in the role, or had the role, and those that you trust. Take all of that information in and then use the support and advice from your network.

About the interviewee

Heather MacDonald

Heather MacDonald is Jacobs’ Canada Regional Solutions and Technology Director for Canada, Toronto Office Lead, and Group Lead Manager for the Greater Toronto Area.  Heather has over 25 years of progressive experience focused on business and resource management, project and client management, growth and market leadership and a broad technical background that stems from originally working in the mining industry.  Her career over the last 10+ years with Jacobs has included client account responsibility, project oversight, project technical leadership, project management, operations and strategic sales leadership. These roles have all required facilitating multi-discipline collaboration of our water, industrial water, environmental, advanced facilities, transportation and other specialty-needed teams from across Canada, U.S., and globally. 

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