Heather Wright is a self-described “people enthusiast” who has wanted to work in human resources since she was a child. So, when she was offered a job six years ago to help implement the people-centred strategic vision for the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association (BCMEA), she jumped at the opportunity.
Growing up in the Lower Mainland, Wright knew how important British Columbia’s waterfront industry is to the global economic supply chain. She had also heard some of the traditional stereotypes about it being a tough, male-dominated work environment and wondered if she could help. What could be done to attract more women, minorities, Indigenous peoples, or those with different abilities to consider a career on the coast?
"Culture change is never easy,” says Wright. “But it’s essential to know every person plays an important role in shaping our work culture.”
Wright started her career in the non-profit world, where being a woman did not impede career advancement. Later, she worked for a largely male-dominated company where she was selected to receive specialized women-in-leadership training as part of their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program.
This program proved to be transformative, informing Wright on how to advocate for herself effectively and how to be clear and vocal about her goals. She immediately recognized the benefits of a well-executed DEI strategy, leaving her well positioned to foster equity and diversity when she joined the BCMEA, which provides advisory services in human resources and labour relations to 49 waterfront employers across the province. She is currently BCMEA’s vice president of people, culture and technology.
"We are truly committed to advancing our people, ensuring they feel welcome and supported,” she says. “We are building a diverse talent pipeline, which is critical to evolving our industry.”
This evolution is well underway, with more diverse candidates entering the industry while those already in waterfront careers take on greater responsibilities. During her time at the BCMEA, Wright has seen women and members of other under-represented groups rise through the ranks of waterfront companies to take on senior leadership roles.
“They have credibility, strong skills and relevant waterfront experience,” says Wright, a key member of the Waterfront Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council. “These are the leaders of tomorrow.”
The council – including representatives from more than 10 of the largest terminal employers and operators in British Columbia – is taking action to foster an inclusive and supportive work environment for B.C.’s waterfront workforce and leadership. Its members are creating change through strategic data collection and needs analysis, a rigorous audit process and sustainable DEI programs.
“The role of allies is particularly important,” says Wright. “Through allyship and mentoring, today’s leaders are shaping the future workplace. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have allies advocating for me throughout my career.”
Effective allies ask challenging questions and listen carefully to the answers, she continues. They are active, empower change, and help overcome and eliminate barriers to success.
When asked if there is someone, in particular, she has in mind as she describes effective allies, Wright answers without hesitation: Mike Leonard, BCMEA’s president and CEO and a member of the Waterfront DEI Council. While she laughs about how she might be seen as trying to get in her boss’s good books, she means it when she names him.
“I admire how he shows up, how he champions people and creates an environment for them to be successful,” says Wright. “He knows that the success of the industry begins with the success of an individual.”
For his part, Leonard says when it comes to making the province’s waterfront reflect the diversity of our communities, Wright is the bridge between strategy and execution.
“Inclusive and rewarding work environments don’t just happen,” Leonard says. “Heather is an analytical thinker who builds systems and supports to advance positive workplace behaviour and culture.”
With fundamental advancements well underway, the goal is to ensure more British Columbians recognize the exciting career opportunities offered on the waterfront.
Says Wright: “The waterfront is an incredible place to work – we just need to get the message out!”