Joan Hertz has had a lot of firsts in her career, starting with becoming the youngest executive assistant to a cabinet minister in the history of the Alberta legislature at the age of 19.
“I think the biggest barrier was people looking at me and seeing a young female and underestimating my ability, my brains and what my contribution might be,” she says of her career.
“This was quickly brought down by serious hard work and commitment to make a difference.”
With an over a 25-year career as a lawyer and board member on various organizations in Alberta, Hertz’s experience makes her the go-to person for innovative but sage advice. She believes she is just getting started learning and sharing her knowledge within her networks.
“I landed in some places that moved me along. I have had great experiences which build confidence and make you resilient.”
A unique disruptor
As a lawyer, Hertz understands that most people have trouble connecting her formal education with her role as an innovator. But she contends that she has always been a little bit of a disruptor.
“Every place that I have worked or any board that I have sat on I try to be the person that zooms out and asks the question why,” Hertz says.
“It seems strange as lawyers are all about compliance, so you don’t necessarily think of compliance and innovation in the same sentence, but innovation and compliance are not mutually exclusive. There are ways to be an innovator and enabler within compliance and that is where I came from.”
Making an impact as a small person in a big province
Never intending to become a lawyer, she completed a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC, intending to make an impact on the world. But her love for Alberta, brought her back to see how she could “make great change and have the greatest impact I could have as a small person in a big province”.
Having a successful career as a lawyer and in-house counsel in Alberta, Hertz says her thought process began to change and she saw more opportunities to expand her horizons and innovate within large, and at times, bureaucratic organizations. Her roles shifted to being an executive and board member.
“When people talk about innovators they think of small businesses and entrepreneurs, but innovators are also sitting in those boardrooms of big organizations,” she says of her unique perspective on disrupting.
“Thinking about how we can be innovative, transformative, inspirational, where there are thousands of employees and multi-billion dollar companies. Thinking about what the implications are of this system we have and how we can improve. I see this type of innovation as equally important to the launch of new businesses. It’s just a different scale.”
Transforming to build momentum during a worldwide pandemic
Hertz’s many experiences disrupting and innovating have given her the knowledge and wisdom to bring calmness and certainty to the role she plays now leading Norquest College through a worldwide pandemic.
Calling it “the biggest prioritization exercise in the shortest amount of time”, her team transformed the College within a week, working to make sure everyone could access learning online. Serving over 20,000students with varying degrees of economic situations, levels of English comprehension and access to Wi-Fi - meant this was no small feat.
“We grew the best muscle for rapid prioritization and transformation I have ever seen,” Hertz says.
“Now the challenge is how do we keep the momentum, the innovation, the ability to prioritize and reset as we move forward. This is an opportunity to reset, we cannot go back to the way it was. We need to stay with this momentum and keep this transformation alive.”
Joan Hertz’s advice for young women looking to succeed:
1. Always zoom out, picture the future you want and then innovate to get there. Don’t limit your thinking, think big for your organization or your own personal goals.
2. Read and learn and be curious about adjacent industries that are outside of your current interests. Be curious and be a continuous learner.
3. You have to work hard and you have to make sacrifices. Be kind to yourself. You can’t have everything 100 per cent of the time. When you have to shift, shift – when you have babies or have to care for a loved one, just forgive yourself. There are times when you can only focus on one thing, its okay, don’t beat yourself up. This is part of being a successful woman - being compassionate to yourself.