Denise Pothier has worked in engineering for 25 years and last week, at a national awards event in Toronto, she was recognized in part because of her role in encouraging young women to think about engineering as a potential career. She says it’s a career path she wouldn’t have taken had it not been for one of her high school teachers.
A resident of Halifax, where she works for Stantec, Pothier grew up in Lower Eel Brook, Yarmouth County, and attended the former Ste-Anne-du-Ruisseau high school, graduating in 1988.
On Nov. 22, she was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). She was honoured in the CIBC “trailblazers and trendsetters” category at a gala in Toronto.
The WXN Top 100 Awards celebrate the accomplishments of Canada’s top female executive talent. The trailblazers/trendsetters category recognizes women who are either first in their field, or who have made a major impact on it, and who have made a great contribution to Canadian society in any field or endeavour.
Pothier, Stantec’s vice-president of practice services and Indigenous relations, is considered a leader for her work with Indigenous communities, as well as for her efforts to support women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Stantec includes engineers, architects and scientists and their work covers a wide range of projects, from interior design to mining work to infrastructure.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be named a trailblazer and a trendsetter,” Pothier said. “But it is also far more than that. It is a responsibility, one that I take very seriously.”
In an interview a few days after the Toronto gala, Pothier said she wouldn’t be where she is today if one of her high school teachers at SAR hadn’t recommended engineering as a career option.
“I hadn’t considered engineering,” she recalled. “It wasn’t even on my radar until Philippe Doucet spoke to my mom at a parent-teacher meeting and said ‘what is Denise thinking of doing? Has she ever thought about engineering?’ Think about it. Back in 1988, there weren’t a lot of women going into engineering, especially not from the rural areas. And so he (Doucet) looked beyond the stereotypes and biases and what not and just said ‘I see a student here who’s really good at math problem solving and the sciences and has an aptitude.’”
She encourages people to think about teachers who were mentors to them and to appreciate their insight.
Referring to Doucet, who is now retired from teaching, Pothier said, “I cannot thank him enough.”
Pothier, meanwhile, has become an inspiration for young women who may be thinking about engineering. She offered some words of encouragement.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said. “If you’ve got the interest in the sciences and the math, if you like to solve problems, like to make a good salary – all of those things – if you like to make a difference in the world, then engineering is a great choice.”
She acknowledges it’s not for everyone. Her advice to anybody trying to chart a career path is to determine what interests them and, whatever it might be, to do their best.
“I encourage everyone (to consider): what makes you tick? And then give it all you’ve got.”