This article was originally written by Sarah Kelsey and published to the Women of Influence blog.
After fighting sexism and the status quo in her early career, Barbara Marinoni decided enough is enough, changed jobs, and started on a personal journey to focus on her health. Now she’s an Ironman triathlete and the National Director of Supply Chain at Ricoh Canada — where she’s encouraged to change business for the better.
Barbara Marinoni has never let convention dictate how she lives her life. The drive to do things differently started when she was young, thanks in part to her atypical upbringing. When she was five, her father and mother divorced and her father was the one who opted to raise her and her sister alone.
“Can you imagine an Italian man choosing to raise two young girls in the ‘70s by himself?” she asks. “It was unheard of, and definitely against social and gender norms.”
But with those unique circumstances came valuable lessons about breaking down barriers, ignoring preconceived gender notions, and working hard to get what you want.
“My father always told us you get out of life what you put into it,” she says. “He instilled a strong work ethic in us. We knew we had to push ourselves, especially when faced with problems.”
For Barbara, that meant challenging herself to take on roles in industries that were, in many ways, difficult for women. She started her career as a Quality Manager for a 3rd Party Service Provider to a leading automotive manufacturer in the ‘90s, and eventually worked her way up to the highly regarded position of Operations Manager. Barbara’s rise was almost unheard of given the gender inequality that often existed in the automotive industry at the time.
“I fought gender battles every day,” she says. “I had to fight my way through to keep growing my career.” Many times that included working 15 to 16 hour days. It also meant trying to shut out nasty comments that jealous colleagues hurled her way. When asked, Barbara admits she never sought to change the culture she worked in (“it would have been impossible given how ingrained certain things were”), but she did seek to evolve how she led her teams.
“Even ten years ago, managing was more about just getting the work done and there was really no regard for people,” she says. “It didn’t matter what it took to get the work done, you just needed to get it done. In my automotive days, it was accepted to call people names if they did something wrong. It was a hard, difficult environment to work in, but I knew I could learn and grow from my experiences.”
That’s not to say that Barbara handled the stress of being the lone woman in a “boy’s club” well; it was the opposite. As her career took off, so too did the abuse she suffered at work, and to cope she turned to food. At one point she weighed 300 pounds, all because she had started to internalize the discrimination she faced.
It was after one particularly awful incident that Barbara decided enough was enough — everything needed to change.
“One day a young woman I worked with said she had heard there was a drawing of me in the men’s washroom. I checked the bathroom once it was empty, and on one stall’s wall there was a picture of me in the driver’s seat of my BMW — I knew it was me because I was the only one in the facility driving one. Whoever drew the image, did so in a way that accentuated my weight… they made it seem like the car was collapsing under me. Shortly thereafter I left and made a promise to myself to change a few things.”
She started with her career. After leaving automotive, Barbara spent a few years working for a logistics company as a senior manager, and in 2012, landed at Ricoh — a “dream company.” Today, as National Director, Supply Chain, she says Ricoh has given her opportunities many other companies would not: the ability to grow teams, to learn from each other, and to change how business is done.
“My advice for people who want to change their circumstances or to those who are facing challenges like I have is to never let your gender, or anything, get in your way. Allow yourself to be in difficult situations. Don’t be afraid to fail. Speak up.”