Jeannine Ritchot | Ottawa | Occupy Your Space


LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jritchot/

Twitter: @JeannineRitchot


Assistant Deputy Minister,

Communications and Portfolio Sector at Natural Resources Canada

I grew up in a working class family in small town francophone Manitoba, in the agricultural communities surrounding the city of Winnipeg. At the age of 17, I left home to come to the University of Ottawa to study. As a Franco-Manitoban, it was important to me to be able to study in French. Little did I know then that I would fall in love with this city. Now, 27 years later, although I am forever a prairie girl at heart and have filled my home with bison art to remind me of my Manitoba roots, Ottawa is my home. I am grateful that the Public Service of Canada has afforded me incredible career opportunities. From being the first woman to chair the Regulatory Policy Committee of the Organization of Economic Development in 2019, to negotiating a chapter in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, to becoming an Assistant Deputy Minister in a major Canadian economic department, I have found my calling in public service and my home in the Nation’s Capital. My passion for public service also translates into a deep belief that I should give back to my community. In particular, I am a fierce advocate for increasing the participation of women and girls in sport. I am a founding member of the University of Ottawa GeeGees Women in Sport Network and of the Community Cabinet of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) Foundation, both of which support the development of leadership skills for girls and women through their participation in sport. Giving back to my community reminds me that there is more to life than work. It gives me energy and feeds my soul.


Never forget where you are from! Bison art and bison earrings to remind me of home.


What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

There is no doubt that women have come a long way in the workplace, but the playing field is still in no way equal. Throughout my career, I have consistently been judged differently than my male colleagues. I have received inappropriate comments about my wardrobe or makeup choices. I have been labelled as “difficult” for expressing my opinion when it has differed from the majority. I have been interrupted in meetings and had my ideas discounted only for them to be enthusiastically supported when they are put back on the table by a male colleague. Yet I refuse to be anything other than unapologetically me. I love who I am, where I came from, and what I have accomplished. I had to grow into this sense of confidence and this sense of pride in my authentic self. But on the worst days, I remind myself that I have worked hard, I belong, and that it is absolutely right that I express my uniqueness to the world. So perhaps I am not so much overcoming the hurdle as refusing to accept it and just blowing right through it!


What books are you currently reading?

I am a VORACIOUS reader, especially during COVID-19 times. My goal is to read 100 books in 2021 and I am on track! My favourite genres are historical fiction, Canadian literature, and music biographies/autobiographies. I also love reading about strong, fierce women – both fictional and non-fictional. Currently, I am reading The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, an historical fiction about the British women code-breakers of World War II who played an instrumental role in deciphering German codes to deliver the intelligence needed for the Allies to win. I have also been making very conscious efforts to diversify the authors that I am reading, and am introducing more Indigenous, Black and Asian authors into my personal library. I have a responsibility to see the world through multiple perspectives and experiences, not just my own. This is one way to do that.


Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I have had nothing but incredible support from my family and friends throughout my career. In particular, I really have to thank my parents. Mom and Dad had to work so hard to put my siblings and me through university. True, my father was a little heart-broken when I chose a Bachelor of Arts in History as my area of study – he really wanted his eldest daughter to go into Engineering and shatter that glass ceiling – but ultimately, he understood that I wanted to follow my passion as I set out on my own. Similarly, my husband has been an incredible support in my life. Even when I had a job that took me away from home for at least a third of the year, leaving him to deal with all of our household responsibilities, he never once complained. He wants me to be my best self, and knows that my career is a key part of my identity. I am truly lucky.


Working closely with Mexico to advance good regulatory practices in North America.


What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success?

I would say prioritizing time for my own self-care. I am a former competitive athlete (women’s natural bodybuilding), and while I no longer compete, I cannot imagine a day in my life where I am not physically active. Not only to stay in physical shape. Being active is fundamental to my mental health. When I am going through a difficult time at work, there is no better way to release that stress than with a run or a tough leg workout! Physical activity and eating right are often the first things that go for busy executives, but I am determined to always give myself this gift, no matter how busy I am. I can’t take care of my team if I am not taking care of myself.


What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?

I wish I had known the importance of networking. I did not prioritize building and nurturing a network until much later in my career, and that’s too bad, because a network offers you so many things. It offers you connections that can help you open doors to new opportunities. It offers you people to turn to when you need advice or help sorting through a difficult issue. It offers you support. Particularly as you move into more senior roles in your career, you will find that it becomes lonelier. Surrounding yourself with a network of people who are living the same challenges as you will help you realize that you aren’t actually alone.


Speaking to women's rugby players


What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?

“Occupy your space. Fearlessly.”

Honestly, I should get t-shirts made that say this because this is the advice that I give everyone who I mentor. What do I mean by that? Whatever stage you are on – whether on the playing field, in your very first job interview, in a high-stakes meeting in a boardroom, or in a community organization where you volunteer – you need to know that you belong there. Have faith in your unique set of skills and character that got you there. Ask whatever questions you need to ask. Share your opinion. You deserve to bring your own uniqueness to your role and share it with others. Be you. Fearlessly. Always.