One morning while at her job as an engineer at Cancarb Ltd. six years ago, Sophie Blais was given an opportunity by her then boss she did not expect.
"I remember it was a Thursday," she said with a laugh. "I know that because after I heard the question I said, 'Well happy Thursday to you.' "
The question was whether Blais wanted to change her job from an engineering and design role to a marketing management role in the Asia-Pacific region. It was not only a new position and role for Blais, but it would require her to be on the client-facing side of the business, a big change from the research and development and engineering side of the field.
After thinking about it for the weekend, she took on the task and has since taken a similar position working with clients in the European market. It's a role where the Medicine Hat, Alberta, resident has learned much about the industry, products, cultures and working with people.
Blais has encountered both conscious and unconscious biases given both her role as a female leader and her age (she has not yet reached 30). Such situations have been a revelation, but Blais has handled it with grace, both during travels to the Asia-Pacific region before the pandemic, and since travel continued in summer 2022. Her promotion marked the first time in Cancarb Ltd.'s history that it employed a female marketing manager.
"I've had situations where I was told by someone that they expected their meeting would be with a man rather than me," Blais said. "At first it definitely shook me up, but I've learned how to handle it."
Today, Blais is responsible for leading marketing and sales initiatives in the European market. She said that despite the occasional challenging in-person situation and the usefulness of technology, there is no substitution for face-to-face interactions, particularly in the sales space of the rubber manufacturing industry.
As a millennial, Blais says her approach, and that of other management professionals in her general age group, appear to be a little different from predecessors from older generations. For one, she has discovered that her approach is more direct and bottom-line focused in some ways, perhaps because of the influence of technology and tracking metrics. She believes the entire rubber industry is experiencing a "shift in the way business is done," where personal and professional relationships are still of great importance, yet do not impact the speed of getting work done.
Additionally, the emphasis on work/life balance is more pronounced than when she first entered the work force out of college. The COVID pandemic helped to bring more attention to this balance.
Blais learned how to balance work with personal goals in an often male-dominated industry from female mentors when she first began working at Cancarb. She credits these and other female colleagues for balancing their work with their personal lives effortlessly, enjoying professional success along the way.
"In some ways, it is our job to open the eyes of our (male) colleagues," she said.
In the years ahead, Blais aims to further shatter the proverbial glass ceiling at Cancarb and within the rubber manufacturing industry. She hopes to continue progressing upward in the company, with the goal of becoming one of the first woman serving in a senior executive role at the Canadian-based company.
She also will continue to connect with other female professionals within the industry both in the U.S. and globally, sharing ideas, best practices and anecdotal lessons. While she enjoys having returned home to where she grew up in Alberta, Blais admits she may have to consider moving elsewhere as her career goals evolve.
"You have to go where opportunity takes you, and I am glad I am here now," she says. "But you never know where the next opportunity will come from."