Q&A WITH KIRSTINE STEWART
Our Turn can be described as a career guide/memoir/feminist manifesto. What inspired you to write it?
There are great books out there about leadership and making your way, but they come from a perspective I couldn’t relate to. My story is different. I started at the bottom, and I didn’t have friends in high places. I’ve had all sorts of bosses-some good, some horrible. I’ve learned what motivates me and, through that, how to motivate a team.
You mentioned other books. As the vice-president of media for Twitter, you’re a powerful woman in tech. Do you feel prepared to be described as Canada’s answer to Sheryl Sandberg?
Ha! I liked Sandberg’s book a lot, but I also understand that it can be hard to “lean in.” In terms of the comparison, I don’t think leadership is as defined by gender anymore. It’s great if there are better opportunities for female leaders, but I think women get tired of being put in boxes, even if it’s the supportive “go girl” box.
Why is the professional landscape ripe for female leaders?
Companies holding on to the patriarchal style of leadership that is about one person ruling from on high aren’t surviving. Now we live in a world with people who listen and collaborate, who are empathetic and reflexive. Those attributes are ones women have had for a long time that were undervalued.
In the book, you compare striving for work-life balance to trying to find a unicorn. Does this mean women can’t have it all?
I think we can have it all, but the “it” is different for every person. Being a CEO isn’t everyone’s ultimate goal.
What’s your problem with the five-year-plan model?
When I was younger, I knew what my life was going to look like. What I quickly found out was that a plan can narrow your opportunities. As my daughter heads into university, my advice is to take the broadest courses possible. Who knows what kind of careers are going to be available when she’s finished? If I had said, “I really want to be vice-president of x by the time I’m 32,” I don’t think I ever would have gotten there.
Is it true that Twitter employees have unlimited vacation?
It is. Tech companies like to shake things up, and vacation is another tradition of office life that’s being reformed. The statistics show that nobody takes more vacation than they would at any other company, but I think people appreciate the freedom.
Your name is very similar to that of Twilight actor Kristen Stewart. Is that ever weird?
There have been times when people were expecting Kristen-particularly when it’s Toronto International Film Festival time. I think she’s symbolic of this next generation: they do what they want to do, and you have to respect that. I see the kind of [things people tweet at her]-she’s such a bad actress, she’s always frowning- and she doesn’t care. There’s something liberating about her attitude. All in all, not a bad person to be confused with. Not at all! I mean, I could be her mother, but I’m honoured.