The stalwart CEO of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has been going to bat for local business people since long before it was cool. Raised with deep Comox Valley roots, Dianne’s sense of place, country charm, and poised professionalism have made her a pillar of our business community for decades.
CVC: What might people not know about Dianne Hawkins?
Dianne: I’m pretty versatile. I can go from being covered in grease working on my motorcycle to MCing an event wearing a formal gown. Neither of those situations makes me feel uncomfortable.
I started my work-life pumping gas and ended up navigating the corporate world. But I’m still that shop girl, grassroots and adaptive, but that’s not necessarily what people see of me in my day to day.
CVC: As a woman in business over the last thirty years, if James Brown were still alive do you think he’d say it’s a man’s world?
Dianne: Statistically yes. Women are still making 73 cents on the ‘man’s dollar’ and we tend to be under represented in CEO and leadership roles across the country. When I look at how things have evolved for me personally, I focus on what we do have. I see women embracing their femininity in the workplace. We’ve stopped trying to be like men. At times the pendulum has swung too far the other way—feminism has seemed anti-male, instead of embracing our diverse strengths as men and women, and collaborating better. Women bring a different perspective to business – statistically we tend to be more calculated and think longer term, while men tend to take more risks and push things forward. We can complement each other; we put different ideas on the table. I think a lot of time we call things a gender issue, or a race issue, or an age issue, but it may simply be a human issue. We make things politically correct so we don’t offend one another, but in doing that we build walls and disconnect. I think we need to have grace for each other. If someone is being rude it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being rude because you’re a woman, or a minority, or anything else. I think a lot of barriers get broken down when we put our labels aside.
CVC: How else has the business culture changed in the Comox Valley over the course of your career?
Dianne: How people do business is certainly changing, creative people seem to get it; they chase the thing that drives the passion. I see people looking for more balance. There isn’t the same attitude that I experienced when I first started in the corporate world… the drive to climb the corporate ladder, people desperately competing with each other over opportunities. I see people deciding what they want and building their life around that, and I see a lot more collaboration. I love seeing people get together and make each other more successful, finding out how their ideas and businesses lend to one another and can reinforce one another. I’m seeing competing businesses looking for common ground to collaborate. It builds community
CVC: Do you see different ages working together well?
Dianne: I owe a lot to young people. Trusting the insights young people have spoken to me has given me such a full life. They don’t care what I do—they care who I am. My generation has always asked, “What do you do?” and that defines you. That hasn’t existed for me with my younger friends. They care about who I am…I get to be me without the performance; we all need that, to be considered as a human being not a human doing. Our professions don’t define us.
CVC: It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about trust in and out of the business world.
Dianne: It has a lot to do with trust and understanding who’s safe. As I become more enlightened, or more whole, I realize I don’t need other people to make things feel safe for me. When I’m with me I am safe. To a certain degree I think safety and trust is self-determined. I have to be safe with who I am… if a situation comes up that impacts me or throws me off guard, I have to believe that I have everything I need within me to face it. Nobody has the ability to change who I am except me. That sounds very philosophical but there you go. (She laughs) The biggest thing for me was to begin to explore things from a different perspective, changing how I perceive what goes on around me, and how I choose to position myself. To change an outcome or my perspective on something, I must choose to believe someone entering my space does so with with his or her best intentions at heart.
CVC: How did you come to believe that is true?
In my experience, conversation is pretty limited when both parties have their arms crossed; it’s a postural thing. I’ve done myself and the people around me a disservice when I’ve been hesitant to share the things that are really important to me. Vulnerability is disarming. When I’ve been in business environments lately, and I’ve been called on to share something personal about myself, I’ve noticed that there’s a softening when people see I’m not ‘all business.’ It creates connection when we are our authentic selves.