Indigenous Relations BC-based advisor reflects on her leadership journey

Effective leaders are humble first and foremost: Minerva BC award-winner Martha Manuel

There were no screams of victory or celebratory fist-pumps when Martha Manuel initially learned she was named recipient of Minerva BC’s Michelle Pockey Leadership Award. Martha’s father, the late Grand Chief George Manuel, emphasized the virtues of humility and avoiding boastfulness at all costs, which made accepting the honor a challenge.

Through guidance from elders with the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwépemc Nation, Manuel eventually shifted perspective to understand that the award was not solely a function of her individual achievements, but rather, it was a tribute to the network of women and men who supported her on her leadership journey.

Upon further reflection, she began to also recognize that leadership had played a prominent feature in both her personal and professional journey.

She’s currently the Indigenous Relations senior advisor with New Gold Inc., a multinational mining company headquartered in Toronto. It’s a role that involves building relationships between Indigenous communities and the company; one which has helped form Manuel’s personal definition of leadership.

“Leadership is having the ability to work with people to bring out their ideas, encourage those ideas, and bring them to life in a collaborative approach, in a teamwork approach,” says Manuel. “It’s about [creating] that level of communication to understand who the communities are, the challenges they are working to overcome and the success they’ve accomplished thus far.”

Though few would argue that a collaborative approach is misguided, and that a diversity of ideas represents a problem, creating an environment where community partners feel comfortable sharing their ideas is not always simple. Manuel’s experience, (she’s been with New Gold for over 10 years), has given her insight on how best to facilitate an honest exchange of ideas.

“It’s taking that time to build trust in the relationship. I think sometimes businesses want to get things done now, today,” explains Manuel. “But the successful companies take time to build those relationships, creating that level of trust so you have open communication.”

Manuel’s path to her current position wasn’t linear. She moved to Vancouver from her home in Chase, B.C. to take pre-med courses at UBC. However, her father’s untimely death left her mother as the sole provider for Manuel’s two younger siblings. The need to financially support her mother led her to forego classes at UBC to find work.

During a day of cold-calling and going door-to-door, Manuel walked into the Vancouver offices of Minerva BC. Through an informal brainstorming process, Manuel was given direction regarding where to find work. She credits her impromptu visit and the entire team at Minerva BC with motivating her on her search for gainful employment, and with creating a network of support that continues to prove valuable to this day.

“When I look back at that day, I don’t think I would have followed through and visited as many people as I did. But having the conversation [with Minerva] motivated me,” recalls Manuel. “My life took a whole new turn based on those few conversations. Feeling empowered like that gives me the motivation to empower other people. I want other people to feel that same empowerment and motivation.” She continues to refer Minerva as a valuable resource for communities and businesses.

Manuel speaks about the challenges that comes with entering a male-dominated industry like mining. It can be even more daunting to enter into a leadership position within a male-dominated industry. But women facing these challenges is exactly what Manuel wants to encourage, knowing that her having received similar encouragement from her own network has made such an impact on her journey.

“I ended up with a job thanks to networking (…) all because I walked into Minerva and networked,” says Manuel. “I think to transition into a leadership role takes a lot of courage [and] managing a leadership role becomes very challenging. It’s about overcoming those challenges and identifying a network of support.”

Manuel appreciates how the award altered her view of receiving recognition of her accomplishments, that her work is being recognized as precedent setting. And what she knows to be true, is that sometimes honours awarded to one person are actually a reflection of all those who came before her, and those who will follow.

Minerva is committed to providing culturally-relevant programs in partnership with Indigenous women in their communities throughout British Columbia. Click here to read how we are changing the face of leadership 

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