Meet Mary Wildman - Indigenous Influencer and Speaker
By: Allison Colin-Thome, Drift Employer Brand Coordinator
Mary Wildman is an Indigenous Influencer and Speaker based in Toronto and will be a panelist at the forthcoming Drift event Conversations with Impact: Intersectionality at Work. I had the chance to sit down with Mary and discuss her background, and what drives her current work.
Can you share a little bit with me about your professional background and your career journey up to this point?
Initially, when I moved to Toronto, I started working for TD Bank and I spent five years there working in various roles from Compliance and Communications & Events to Business Analysis. From the bank I moved to what is now known as Toronto Metropolitan University, where I had the opportunity to lead the Indigenous Fashion Support program. There I got to work with Indigenous entrepreneurs across Canada on their businesses, which was amazing because I ended up learning a lot about entrepreneurship. I loved that role and probably would have stayed there if it was a permanent, but it was only a contract. After TMU, I worked for Mars Discovery District where I was the Manager of the Indigenous Youth Programs. In that role I built a youth program, which involved quite a bit of outreach for partnerships. I ended up landing us three partnerships with The Cooperators. Home Depot and Service Canada, which I was really happy about.
At what point did you decide to venture off on your own and have your own business?
It had always been in the back of my head because I started public speaking at TD, which led to different folks asking more about my Indigenous background. At the same time I would go to networking events and people would ask me, ‘do you have a business card? Do you have a website? Which I didn’t, but that feedback sparked something. Eventually I built my website and had a professional photo shoot done, even though I still didn’t know all the details of my business, I just knew the strong topics that I'm good at speaking about and I knew that it would have a consulting focus.
Overall, what would you say is the most enjoyable aspect of your work right now?
The most enjoyable thing is definitely meeting new people. When I meet new people, I always learn something new and it's a new relationship building or potential partnership. I love networking because that's how you get opportunities, by networking and bringing people into your circle.
What would you say are the most challenging aspects of your work?
The most challenging I would say is trying to get enough clients, because when you're a business owner, you have to sell yourself. You have to go outside of your comfort zone for a potential partnership. But the worst thing they can do is either ignore me or just say no.
In regards to issues of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality specifically, do you think there has been a change in recent years in regards to how receptive the corporate world is to these conversations? Why or why not?
No, I don't think there's been a change. I’m a strong advocate for Intersectionality, that’s why I’m excited to be on the Drift panel. Panels that I’ve seen [at corporate events] in the past have not had a high level of diversity. I have not seen real candid conversations. I find that we need to branch out if we're going to make any change. We need to be open.
Do you think there is still resistance or hesitation from individuals to raise or even engage in these conversations? Why or why not?
There is definitely resistance and I think the reason why is because people don't want to hurt someone else's feelings. Especially if they're not well versed in the culture. There have been people that have come up to me awkwardly asking me certain things and then they have an awkward look on their face, almost apologetic for saying the wrong thing.
I agree with you. There's this fear of being uncomfortable and awkward. Or they're so afraid to use the wrong terms and that is a barrier from engaging in the conversation I find. I agree.
What do you see as some of the advantages to ensuring corporate strategies are inclusive and created with diversity and intersectionality at the forefront?
I definitely think people would be more comfortable to have these conversations and learn from one another. Right now people are uneducated. There’s still a misconception of the truth when it comes to what happened to Indigenous people. I think a lot of people have such strong opinions about the community. And they always think that Indigenous people want stuff for free. I’d like to just honestly uncover all of that.
How do you think we can make these conversations less intimidating and more accessible to engage in and whose responsibility do you think that is?
I think it's everyone's responsibility. When we bring people together and have these important conversations, it's important to take a different approach and come together in a circle - that's the term that we use in Indigenous language. Whether that’s an online circle or in person. I have sat in a circle with White people and Black people and they work, because people feel more comfortable. I think because the number one rule when you're in a circle is that what’s said in the circle stays in the circle. Speaking in a circle grounds everybody. It grounds everybody to be able to be honest and open. Also, in the Indigenous way of doing things there's a talking stick, which is either a stick or a feather, which prevents others from talking over each other.
Many companies are now requiring employees back to the office, which will reignite conversations about equity, inclusion and respect for intersectionality in the workplace. What, in your opinion, are some of the most important things organizations can do to ensure employees are re entering a safe and equitable environment?
Listen. Your manager and other leaders need to listen to you and take everyone's opinion into consideration. It also saddens me that we don't talk honestly enough about what happens in society to Indigenous people, or what happened in the past. It’s upsetting that it's just acknowledged on certain days throughout the year. We need to have a constant conversation.
If you are interested in hearing more from Mary, check out her site at https://iammarywildman.com/ AND don't forget to register for Conversations with Impact on May 11: