Women's Month 2022: Team Member Highlight - Kait Dinunzio
Name: Kait Dinunzio
Title: Senior Partner & Chief Change Officer
What is a career highlight that exemplified female empowerment in the workplace?
I've always been a bold individual; I've never seen my gender as a roadblock and have always seen myself as equal to everyone I work with. I do however, know that this isn't the case for everyone, and probably hasn't been the case for me - it's just not something I focus on. That said, I find being able to work with like-minded females in non-judgmental and (non-toxic) competitive environments tend to be the most empowering opportunities. I love working in organizations that allow women to lift one another up, instead of tear one another down to amplify their own voice or objectives.
Can you share a time when you experienced discrimination in the workplace?
When I was 23 years old, I was fortunate enough to have landed a role at an airline. I'd applied for the position of Flight Attendant, however, after two interviews, I didn't think I "fit the bill" from an aesthetic perspective; however, my attitude, desire to learn and grow was acknowledged and I was given a role in the Maintenance department. I started in May of that year, while not exactly what I was hoping for, I was grateful to have been given the opportunity.
About three weeks into the new role, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. It was kind of intimidating to become pregnant after just starting a new job, so I kept the news to myself for a short period of time while my (now ex) husband and I decided how I should approach it. I was on probation, but I also knew that they couldn't legally discriminate against me for being pregnant, so within a few more weeks, I decided to mention it to my Supervisor.
It was a difficult discussion for me to plan for, as my Supervisor wasn't a very kind woman; she was gossipy and backhanded about a majority of the people in the company and had no problem airing other people's dirty laundry or perpetuating negativity. While I thought I knew what I was dealing with, I didn't.
The day of the discussion, I was like a duck - frantic under the water, but calm on the surface. I shared that I'd recently found out I was pregnant, and instead of congratulating me, she curtly asked me how far along I was, trying to see how long I'd kept the news from her. Her response gave me immediate pause and I contemplated lying to her, but then realized that it would all come full circle eventually, so I shared. She asked me what my plan was and I told her I'd planned on being at work for the duration of my pregnancy and would take the maternity time I was afforded through the Government. She raised an eyebrow and told me that she'd discuss it with Human Resources and get back to me. The whole interaction left me with a very dark feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Two days later, I came into the hangar to continue the data entry for the ongoing C-Check I'd been working on and was met by my Supervisor. She pulled me aside and handed me a white, sealed envelope before telling me that I would no longer have a role at the airline. I could feel the colour drain from my face as I gingerly opened the envelope. In the envelope, there was my final pay check, plus paid out vacation time, and a letter from Human Resources that read:
"Because the role you were hired for is a full time, permanent position and you will be unable to fulfill the duties of this role over the long term, it is with regret that we inform you that we are terminating your employment. As of today's date, you are no longer an employee...."
I looked up at my Supervisor, blinking back tears, and asked why I was being fired. I asked whether or not there was the possibility of filling another position at the airline. She told me that there were no open positions and as I was no longer an employee, I wasn't allowed to be in the hangar. I asked if I could use the phone to call my husband, which she allowed.
Mortified and heartbroken, I called my husband to pick me up and bring me home. I cried the entire way home, feeling dejected by this rejection for something that should have been the most monumental event in my life - Motherhood! How could this be happening in the 21st century?!
I sat with my feelings for awhile and quickly went from shock and loss, into anger. How dare they?! I picked up the phone and called the Human Rights Commission in the Territory, only to find out that because aviation was a federally regulated jurisdiction, I had to use the Federal Human Rights Commission. I got in touch with them and lodged a complaint, which was quickly picked up. The process rolled fast as I lodged the formal paperwork and sent in my side of the events. I'd heard through the community that I wasn't the first woman for this to happen to, so I started calling other women who'd experienced similar or the same treatment. None of them would come forward because our community was so small and tight knit; they were fearful that this would blackball them, or their partner's in future opportunities, so I stood alone.
The airline didn't respond well to the complaint and dragged their feet in response, but I held firm and forced their hand. I wasn't going to back down because I couldn't let another expectant mother feel what I was feeling; I wouldn't allow it. My name circulated the rumour mill in our community, and people were snide to me in public. Exactly what the other women were worried about came to fruition.
I stood firm. I didn't need the community to rally around me - besides... Validation is for parking, not people. Even at 23 years old, I knew I was doing the right thing.
My father helped me find a casual role with the Department of Justice with the Government to help me qualify for my maternity hours, which ended up being a great fit. I worked hard in my reception role to help the Legal Assistants and Legal Secretaries in their workload, including researching and building briefing books for their lawyers legal matters. I was gaining valuable experience by immersing myself in helping others. In addition, I had access to CAN-LII and the Law Library; I spent my lunch hours reading and researching past precedent and legal outcomes from wrongful dismissal and Duty to Accommodate cases across Canada, eventually creating enough content to build a briefing book, as the airline had opted for mediation to resolve the matter. (I really should have been a lawyer!)
I had a beautiful baby girl that December (who continues to be the light of my life), and eventually was given a mediation date for April - almost one year from the time of lodging my original complaint.
Prior to attending mediation, I wrote a letter of expectation for the mediation - what I wanted to see happen. Within that letter, I'd requested:
a refund of my savings that was used to sustain our household as a result of the wrongful dismissal;
a change to the company handbook on Duty to Accommodate; and
training for all leaders on Human Rights requirements at a federal level, specifically in the area of Duty to Accommodate.
I took my letter of expectations, along with all of my briefing book content to Staples and had them create cerlox bound copies for me. (In case you didn't notice, I wasn't playing ...!!) By the time the mediation date arrived, I'd read, re-read and prepped myself for how I wanted to see the mediation play out. I'd sat with my dad who'd coached me on my emotional regulation and discussed our game plan; I was ready.
We arrived in the morning and were brought to the room for mediation - we were the first to arrive (intentionally). I selected the spot where my dad and I would sit and we waited for the airline team to arrive. They sent the woman who'd made the decision (who was actually in PR and Marketing - massive growth had forced her to take on a portfolio that she clearly didn't understand, which was part of the concern). She was accompanied by two lawyers who were equally as shocked when I presented my formal briefing books of information to support my case, the events, and my expectations.
It was a powerful session - and my father didn't say a word.
I told my story, the airline employee told her story, an apology was given in the room, acknowledgement was given to the wrongful dismissal and we were separated for the final negotiations. In all - I was given everything I was seeking - and above all, there has never been another woman who has been subject to the same experience I had with this company.
What does it mean to you to be a female-presenting individual in our modern workplace?
I take great pride in the strength and insight I bring to the workforce as a female. I bring a level of compassion and love to everything I do. It's not to suggest that other genders can't or don't, I just think it comes more freely to us - we're given a great deal of latitude to be able to operate in a safe and loving space and that's really meaningful when you're working in the area of change. I also know I bring a different flavour of leadership to the company and that's really meaningful to me.
Any advice for younger female-presenting individuals entering today’s workforce?
You were given a voice for a reason, don't be afraid to use it; we teach people how to treat us. If you don't like the way you're being treated, change it.
Walk toward the roar - it's okay to have the unpopular opinion. Not everyone will like you 100% of the time and that's okay. You can't please everyone - but you can respect everyone, regardless of their opinion of you.
If you want to be taken seriously, behave seriously; don't expect to be treated equally on one hand and then expect unique treatment on the other - equality is a two way street.
You don' have to sexualize yourself to make your goals a reality.
What's your legacy going to be? Think about it. Plan it. Do it.
We make the rules for our life - I wake up every morning and do this really cool thing called: WHATEVER. I. WANT.
... You can too - want to learn how? Reach out - a call doesn't cost a thing. ;)