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Women in power: stories

Part 6: How a stellar career was almost cut short by a baby Add to ...

Pat Jacobsen, 64

Former CEO, TransLink transportation authority (Vancouver)

When Pat Jacobsen took a contract job with the Ontario government in 1969, she thought she'd be there for six months to help develop a new babysitter training program.

That six months turned into 20 years as Ms. Jacobsen climbed the ladder to the highest rungs in the province's civil service, becoming Ontario's deputy minister of transportation in 1989 after holding top jobs in a variety of other departments.

Ms. Jacobsen credits egalitarian hiring practices and targeted management development programs for helping her build her career. She does not believe she would have been groomed for leadership in the same way in the private sector.

"It's what got me into strong leadership positions and gave me good incremental growth at points that I could handle it, not too fast or slow."

It was a stellar career that was almost cut short.

Ms. Jacobsen had a baby girl in 1984 while working in Ontario as deputy minister of executive resources. She was the first female deputy minister in the province to have a child, and she found the demands of the job were too much with a new baby at home.

"I found the balance so difficult I was about to resign," she recalls.

She credits a particularly flexible premier at the time, David Peterson, with keeping her in the job. With his support, she was allowed to work part-time in her demanding job for two years.

In the decades before her time, Ms. Jacobsen says few women who were in management had children. In the early days, there was little support in society or the workplace for juggling both work and families, and Ms. Jacobsen believes those female pioneers "paid a big price" for their jobs.

She also believes she still missed a lot when her daughter was little and she was working in a series of demanding jobs. Now retired at 64 and serving as a director on several corporate boards, Ms. Jacobsen says she is happy she finally has the freedom to attend her adult daughter's competitive horse shows.

"When I ask my daughter if she feels she missed anything, she'd say she loved having a mother who set examples of what she could do," Ms. Jacobsen said.

Ms. Jacobsen's years in the Ontario government formed only a portion of her long career.

She left government for the private sector in 1992, becoming a senior vice-president at Manulife Financial Corp. and later moving to Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. - jobs where she says she could earn "substantially, substantially more" than was possible working for government.

But the call of the public sector proved irresistible.

Ms. Jacobsen was recruited to Winnipeg in 1998 to become chief executive officer of the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board, and in 2001 was lured to TransLink, the transit authority in Vancouver, where she managed 6,000 employees and oversaw an $8-billion capital budget for road and transit expansion.

"I've never resented that the public sector wasn't as compensated, because I think you do it for different reasons," Ms. Jacobsen says. "I think you do it because you have an interest in the world that our children will grow up in."

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