Twenty years after joining MCA Canada on a six-month contract, Tania Johnston has become the national organization’s first ever female CEO, a step that she hopes will inspire other females toward successful paths in the mechanical trade as well.
“It is a huge honour to be given this responsibility,” she said during a recent Zoom interview from her home in Ottawa. “People have been extremely supportive of me taking on this role. It’s actually been overwhelming with how many people reached out to congratulate me. And it’s been for the same thing: they think it is really awesome that a female is taking on this role as the head of a national trade association.”
Johnston’s first role at MCA Canada was part of a government grant program to help fund the Canadian Mechanical Contracting Education Foundation. That program, now the Construction Education Council within MCA Canada, aligned well for the teacher who, at the time, was providing Microsoft training courses for adults.
“They were looking for somebody at MCA Canada for a short-term contract,” she explained. “I thought, if it doesn’t work out, I can go back to substitute teaching. And here I am, 20 years later.”
Did you know?
Tania considers herself truly blessed to have many supportive groups of girlfriends in her life, including a few with fun names, like the “Bad Moms,” “Original Six,” and “Inner Council.”
A people person
When asked what makes her job so fulfilling, there’s no hesitation. Johnston says, “It’s the people. I love the people.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of variety to help hold one’s interest as well.
“A lot of things in my day-to-day job make it interesting, from running courses to handling budgets and getting out to meet people,” she says. “And we just kept growing it. We introduced the student chapters. I loved working with the students because that brought me back to where I’d started.”
And the middle-management training programs, which were some of the earliest formal training offerings for that level of staff, also added to the draw for her, she says.
“There was just a lot of fulfillment from training people and knowing that people really appreciated the courses,” she says. “At that time, nobody was doing middle management training, so it was new and innovative.”
The trick to successfully moving forward in life, for yourself, your family, your company and your community, says Johnston, is to simply “Do better.”
“I have it as a hashtag on a few things around my home and office,” she says. “This year I changed the hashtag to #DoBetter2020.
“Ramona Coey of MCA Manitoba shared that with me. It was something that her late husband used to always say to their children. When she told me about it, it resonated with me. Every day you just want to do better. Do better in life; do better with your family; do better in your job.”
Why not you?
The mechanical contracting industry is still predominantly male, but with MCA student chapters attracting more females, and with female role models like last year’s MCA Canada conference keynote speaker Mandy Rennehan pushing for an overhaul of the construction industry’s image and support of diversity in the trades, things are starting to change.
“I think it is amazing that we are seeing more and more female owners showing leadership within their own construction firms,” says Johnston. “For young girls who are considering this as a career, if you are hands-on and want to learn the tools and earn a trade, why not you?
“We need a more diverse workforce, and that includes bringing more women into the trade! I think barriers are being dropped,” she adds. “Hopefully MCA Canada will be part of that moving forward, and that may be part of a legacy that I get to leave behind.”
Mentor and sharing insights
Having had an opportunity to work and interact with a number of people over her 20 years with MCA Canada, Johnston gives credit to those who helped prepare her for her new role.
“Our CEO who retired a couple of years ago, Richard McKeagan, never jumped into any decision-making in a hurry. He always looked at every side of the coin. I felt like I learned something from Richard every day,” she says. “He was always for the members. This position was never self-serving for him. I hope to do the same, and that people respect me the same way they respected Richard.”
Over the past two years, working with Pierre Boucher, Johnston was able to expand her focus. “He gave me a lot of new roles and responsibilities,” she says. “He showed a lot of confidence in me, which prepared me for the CEO position. And it also showed the MCAC executive that I was ready.”
Of course, being ready and knowing that you are ready are two different things, and Johnston had a number of recent experiences that told her it was an opportunity for which she was well prepared, including a well-timed CIPH luncheon shortly before her promotion.
“The panelist, Valerie Malone, talked about not letting anybody hold you back,” says Johnston. “She said, ‘If you think you are ready, you are ready.’ A day or two later, this opportunity came up. If I hadn’t been there on that day, and sat in on that session, maybe I wouldn’t have had that gut instinct that I am ready and can take this on. “I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and work with the MCAC team to continue serving our membership and keeping us at the forefront of the construction industry.”
By: Adam Freill