Lyne Parent-Garvey is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Hydro Ottawa. With over 25 years of experience in human resources in a variety of sectors including municipal, health care, not-for-profits and energy, Lyne leverages her expertise to prepare Hydro Ottawa’s workforce for the future. She is a member of the Human Resources Professionals Association, the Society for Human Resource Management and the Canadian Electricity Association’s Human Resources Committee.
Sometimes when we look back on our lives, we can identify a pivotal moment or person that seemingly changed the course of our own history. Whether it’s a eureka moment or a gradual realization, we often find professional inspiration in both likely and unlikely places. For Lyne, this was in her third-year undergrad in university, studying public administration. There, she had heard the Director of Labour Relations with a large national company give a talk as a guest speaker. She ended up being so interested in the work that she decided to study Industrial Relations for her Masters program.
When she graduated, Lyne jumped straight into a municipal labour relations career – the first woman to do so in that organization. She was met with supportive colleagues and a boss that did not shy away from supporting her and providing opportunities for her professional growth; something she recalls fondly, especially when she came up against her first challenge as a woman with a “seat at the table”, both literally and figuratively during a collective bargaining session. Lyne recounted: “in the midst of heated negotiations, one of the union’s labour representatives started making a scene. At one point, he stood on his chair and declared, ‘if you can’t handle the heat, get back in the kitchen!’ I was so shocked, I didn’t even know how to respond,”. But before she could even think of what to say, all of her coworkers stood up for her, quite literally – sending a clear message across the table during a very tense discussion. Later on that evening, the union president called her VP to apologize, and the VP spoke directly with Lyne, asking her what she thought would be an appropriate course of action. Lyne requested an apology from the labour rep, which she eventually did receive, with the support not only of her own team, but of the opposing union team as well. For Lyne, this cemented the importance of being proactive and speaking up when you see something, to support colleagues and friends when we see inappropriate behaviours and comments.
Throughout Lyne’s career, she worked in all the functional areas of human resources: from recruitment and training, to compensation and organizational development, she took on roles and positions that challenged her, and pushed herself to explore and learn about every facet of her field. This was in part due to a conversation she had with one of her mentors – the same Director of Labour Relations of the large national company that had set her on her industrial relations path. Early on in her career, Lyne felt there weren’t many opportunities available to her; her mentor made clear that experience would be the key to widening the path for her career, by solidifying her experience and knowledge. Lyne set a goal in her mind: she knew obtaining a top position in any organization would depend on well-rounded experience. Especially in a realm that specializes in the human aspects of work, Lyne’s extensive knowledge continues to serve Lyne both in and out of the workplace.
By the time Lyne joined Hydro Ottawa in 2006 as Chief Human Resources Officer, she had worked in several sectors, including municipal, health care, and not-for-profits. Lyne’s wide-reaching experience throughout the field was an important tool in her new executive leadership role; she is responsible for all facets of HR, as well as non-traditional HR functions such as business continuity and the environment.
Having worked extensively in so many different sectors, we asked Lyne to talk a little about what it’s like to work in each of these, and how that has formed and shaped her as an HR professional. She commented that hospitals move at a rapid organizational pace – on a day-to-day basis, there are births, deaths, and everything in between; nowhere is it clearer that organizational human resources must work well in supporting its employees, to ensure they have the direction and resources they need. For not-for-profit organizations, there are a different set of challenges – for example, you might have to manage remote workplace relationships with communities and staff across the country, which produces a very different kind of dynamic. But Lyne stresses that there is a common thread that runs through all the sectors she’s worked: they all provide critical services to the public, and share the same human resources challenges: finding the right people, at the right time, for the right job. And that relies heavily on strong relationships at all levels, between employees as well as management.
Transitioning to utilities, Lyne is familiar with the under-representation of women in certain industries. Lyne is hopeful here, as she is seeing the landscape changing, with utilities and other companies making an active effort to improve diversity. When we asked Lyne what organizations can do, today, that could have the most impactful change, Lyne explained that the first step requires organizations and industries to recognize that diversity in talent is a strategic imperative. It enhances engagement and innovation, and adds a competitive edge to one’s brand when attracting top talent. With keeping her experience across sectors in mind, Lyne noted that diversity is most importantly about the customer. A workforce that reflects the community it serves helps organizations better understand people and their needs. At Hydro Ottawa, partnerships with organizations like WiRE, YMCA, Electricity Human Resources Canada, and community-specific organizations/initiatives support diversity, and emphasizes the importance of relationships in cross-industry support for under-represented groups.
As for longer term goals for improving workplace diversity, Lyne highlighted the importance of starting early. Part of this is “normalizing” trades, technical roles, and other traditionally male-dominated positions as viable career options for girls, just the same way kids might see teaching or nursing. This can include forming partnerships with educational institutions and other community spaces, to reach out across different spaces. For example, Hydro Ottawa conducts in-school presentations to teach children about electrical safety, conservation, and renewable energy to bring the utility conversation to kids early on; they also create videos and profiles of women in the industry, that can be used by teachers in the school board. Lyne noted that seeing is believing – girls seeing women in these roles helps redefine what’s possible, that women can work in trades as well as be at the executive level. Hydro Ottawa has also partnered with Algonquin College to design and deliver a 2-year diploma program for powerline technicians. It’s about looking for opportunities throughout the education system to engage kids and women, and bring them into the conversation.
It’s important for men as well to participate in this growth and engagement, something personal and meaningful for Lyne, especially at the start of her career. Supportive male leaders help create the new “normal” – a few key executives committing to hiring, mentoring, and promoting women in trades and technical roles can go a long way. Supportive leaders and colleagues can help women face and navigate new challenges, and build them up to be future leaders.
Finally, we asked Lyne what advice she has for women looking to enter the energy industry. She reminds us that working in any sector should be more than “just a job” – it’s a chance to play a part in empowering the lives of the people that you impact, both directly and indirectly. From a utilities perspective, Lyne finds the sector is community-minded, with Hydro Ottawa in particular emphasizing corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and renewable energy. It’s technology-focused and constantly evolving, so women and men looking to join the sector should not shy away from learning about new technologies and innovations. Lyne also encourages women to pursue opportunities for leadership training that is geared towards women, which can offer a more precise set of tools to help women navigate workplaces more effectively.
Throughout our conversation with Lyne, she’s expressed optimism both about the growing diversity in the industry, as well as a new generation of talent that is more engaged, environmentally-focused, and interested in serving their communities. Throughout her career and at Hydro Ottawa, she’s seen the importance of connecting across groups, communities, and industries to build lasting and meaningful partnerships; but arguably the most important impression she left us with, is how much of a difference we can make, as individuals, when women and men actively advocate for and support diversity in the workplace.
By Jennifer Ng, WiRE Volunteer