Cori Maedel at Jouta Performance makes big dreams real
Cori Maedel always knew that one day she would start her own business. The question, in her mind, wasn't if, but when. As the daughter of two entrepreneurs, Maedel had big dreams and big ideas, but before she could launch herself, she realized that she had to stop "playing small" as a woman in the male-dominated world of business.
"Women often don't believe that what they want is possible, or they think they don't deserve it," Maedel said. "I had to get out of my own way."
Today, Maedel runs the Jouta Performance Group, a successful human resources consulting group based out of Yaletown. On the chilly November day that I visited her office, I entered a space that was warm and inviting. The walls were coloured cream with deep red accents; exposed beams and brick added depth. Delicate, zen-inspired ornaments adorned the desks and tables.
For Maedel, starting a business and doing it on her terms, from the company's key values to the office decor, has been a hard fought battle. During our conversation, Maedel exuded a kind of inner calmness, a groundedness. She spoke softly, but told a tale of perseverance.
For many years, she struggled to find her own path. She felt that she could not trust, or could not express, her own knowledge and beliefs, despite having earned them through hard work. It's a theme she has seen over and over again among women in her role as a coach and human resources consultant.
"Men, in spite of their fear, will tread forward anyway," Maedel said. "They say, "I’m going to succeed and nothing is going to stop me." Women say, "I really want that, but can I have it? Should I have it?" Much of this self-doubt, is rooted in a lack of confidence in one's own beliefs, Maedel said.
Maedel relates to the difficulties of many of her clients because she has experienced them first hand. Although she now runs her own business, her journey began as the only daughter of a single mother in Northern Alberta. They moved ten times in as many years before finally settling in Fort McMurray where her mother had a job opportunity.
"I grew up really fast. I had to be an adult much sooner than I would have liked. There were a lot of times in my life where I was on my own," Maedel, who is in the process of writing a book about her personal journey, said.
Her mother did the absolute best she could to provide for herself and her daughter, Maedel said. She ran a placement agency and passed her entrepreneurial spirit on to her daughter. She also taught her a lesson or two about what it takes to succeed in business.
"Early on, she fired me. She said, 'You’re not doing your job. Get out!' Soon after that I got back in and started working again,” Maedel said.
In her teenage years, Maedel was headed down a troubled path until some kind and perceptive words from a stranger pointed her in a different direction.
"I remember thinking, if I can just get a job that has offices outside of MacMurry, I can get out of here." She found a position in town with Goff Electric but when she asked to be transferred to Edmonton, she was so low on the ladder that they couldn't guarantee her a job. She left anyway, got a job with the company in Edmonton and eventually landed in Port Coquitlam.
"And then I just worked hard. At that point in my life, I knew that the only person I had was me," Maedel explained.
Then, in 1986, she came to the realization that something big had to change. She started on a quest to find out who she was and, as part of that process, she began working with other women as a personal and career coach.
Her strength as a coach is rooted in her own struggle to find her place as a woman in the world of business. "When I was younger I used to think of business as a game. I used to try and play the game, then I said, wait a second, I’m just going to be me," Maedel said.
"I often hear women say, 'I’m one way at work and one way at home.' I used to be that way." To emphasize her point, Maedel formed two circles with each thumb and index finger. "I talk a lot about the two circles. The person that the world sees and who you are. Mine used to be hemispheres apart."
For women, the struggle is to find a balance and the only way to do that is to do the emotional work, said Maedel.
"I don’t want women not to be women. Because that’s who we are. One of the greatest gifts a coach gave me was to learn to trust your own process. And I don’t think that women do that enough."
Even as we learn to celebrate our successes today, it's critical that women remember those who have come before us, the coach said. She paused here, tearing up a little, as she reflected on the sacrifices of past generations of women.
"Women have worked so hard to give us the rights and freedoms that we have today, I think we have a responsibility to support each other."
For Maedel, one motivation for creating Jouta Performance was to help other people, particularly other women, navigate crucial moments in their lives. "We can’t avoid learning, we can’t avoid lessons. But what we can avoid is having them be so enormous for us."
Whether she is talking about her troubled past or women in business, Maedel seems to have an affinity for finding the positives in a situation. She repeatedly emphasized that, at the end of the day, we are all learning. Of course, in that process, we are bound to make mistakes. Some women, for instance, have difficulty treading the line between assertiveness and aggression, she said.
"Women, as nurturers, aren’t supposed to be assertive. We become clumsy. It’s because we’re trying to find our voice. If we don’t know that’s what’s happening we become a bitch," Maedel said.
On that other common stereotype about women in the workplace - that we are too emotional - Maedel said it's about finding the right place for that emotion. Though she may laugh about it now, when Maedel was first starting out in business she used to cry all the time in board meetings. "It was because I was so frustrated."
"Women can be emotional but we have to be balanced emotionally. We can’t go all over the map. I’m not saying don’t be emotional. Emotion is natural, but leaders should be consistent in their actions and behaviour."
To Maedel, it's the qualities that can cause difficulities for women in the workplace that can also help them excel. Relationship building will take you far in business, she said. "When you have the business smarts, and the people skills, oh my gosh, it’s amazing the magic that can occur when you combine these things."
But in order to get to a place where they can work to the best of their ability, many of her clients must overcome their fears. "One of the greatest gifts a coach gave me was to learn to trust your own process. And I don’t think we as women do that enough."
Maedel recounted a story about a client from a very well known company who was going through a report with her Vice President. She kept coming across an acronym that she didn't know. Paralyzed with fear, she could not bring herself to ask the VP what it stood for. After a group coaching session the woman finally worked up the courage to ask. The VP's response? "I don't know!"
"We always think people in positions of power know everything, but the truth is that they are human too."
From her experiences as a coach and HR consultant, Maedel has found that everyone - regardless of age or gender - has something important to bring to the table. The difficulty is in bringing together people who are at different stages in their life and careers.
"I understand that there’s different generations, this isn’t new. Some of the differences are so distinct. How do we bridge that? Because I can tell you that both of these generations can learn from one another. The older people need to be a little bit more open minded and the younger ones need to be a little more present."
Maedel, who is also in the process of writing a book on human resources, believes that the solution is in cross-generational dialogue.
"We have so much to share with each other," she said.