Name and occupation?
Claudette McGowan. I’m the chief information officer for enterprise-technology employee experience at Bank of Montreal.
What does that look like day to day?
There are 60,000 people who work here, and we support 12 million customers. And my job is looking at how the technology is working for all 60,000 employees – so, things like the space that you sit in, the technology that enables you and how they work together.
Does your company or industry have a dress code?
There’s no dress code here. We have something called “dress for your day.” So if you’ve got big client meetings or whatever it may be – because, again, we’re supporting 12 million customers – we’re all adults, so they leave it to us to figure out how best to dress for the day.
I kind of dress up every day. It’s just fun for me to be creative about what I wear. I tend to have on high heels – my husband is six foot eight, so I like high heels. I’ll have on things that can be transferable, as I may have an evening event as well. For example, wearing all black and then throwing something very elegant or eveningwear-type things over it.
Tell me about the three outfits that we photographed you in. What pieces were you wearing and what would you wear them to?
With my first look, I have a – I call it a cape, but it’s like a throw. And I wear it in different environments. And it’s actually my most favourite piece out of everything in my wardrobe. When I interviewed Michelle Obama, I had it on. I feel like it’s my good-luck thing. It’s a go-to piece – I throw it over anything.
My second look I feel like is a very polished look. It has a ton of military-style buttons on the front – so, again, there’s some embellishments to kind of play up the look.
My third look was the BMO-blue jackets. When I go out and do talks, I try to have a splash of blue – that’s kind of messaging around the company and the brand. I definitely like to have a piece of jewellery on. Sometimes it’s a statement piece; this one was a gift from an employee, so it’s actually very special to me.
Tell me about interviewing Michelle Obama. What was that like?
Oh, phenomenal experience. Elevate is the largest Canadian tech festival, and I was asked to have a one-on-one conversation with her. She was just so lovely and very candid and open and authentic, as she’s known to be. But also she unpacked some things, like things that we hear – you know, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s a slogan, and it’s a nice thing to say, but I asked her to unpack it. The way she did it really resonated with the audience and it resonated with me, because she talked about it being about empathy. It’s not that she’s just taking the high road because she wants to be better – it’s actually sometimes for your own health and wellness.
You’ve got to think about why somebody’s reacting the way they’re reacting and what’s really underneath that, and perhaps instead of going toe to toe with them, wrap them in understanding and embrace them with care and concern as a human being. That is good for them, and it’s actually even better for you. So that’s the most insightful thing I got from the conversation – her explaining where that phrase comes from and how she puts it into action.
“I know what I bring to the table – I am here to deliver results and what I wear actually shouldn't matter.”
You’re in a senior role now; people who are in more junior corporate roles may struggle to dress in a way that feels appropriate but also shows their personality. Is that something you’ve ever experienced?
No, because I only know how to be authentic. It’s the truth. I even like fashion faux pas. Earlier in my career, I just kind of wore whatever I wanted. No one pulled me aside and said “What are you doing?” But you kind of correct yourself, right? It’s one of those things where I feel if you’re not being yourself, then it’s a struggle. Your clothes are part of who you are. I’ve never had a problem with bringing a splash of colour to work – I’m in reds, purples and yellows.
I think it’s something that a lot of people really struggle with, especially in the corporate environment – there’s a lot of pressure to conform. How are you able to be that authentic – is it just who you are?
I think it’s who I am, but I also think you have to have confidence – a lot of things stem from that. I know what I bring to the table – I am here to deliver results and what I wear actually shouldn’t matter. So, dress for your day. I love when the bank embraced that because it just kind of validated how I always felt – that you should be dressing for what you’re going to deliver, how you’re going to interact, all that good stuff.
“I wouldn't be at a company that didn't let me be authentically me because I couldn't thrive there.”
Is there anything else you want to say about how you relate to fashion or your style that we didn’t already talk about?
I think just bringing boldness and brightness and colour into the workplace. One of the things we talked about is being bold and courageous, and in many cases, what’s holding people back is fear. They think “If I do this thing or if I step out of line, then maybe I’ll lose my job or maybe I won’t get that assignment.” I tell people of all ages, you don’t get hired – you hire the company. Just like you pick a spouse or pick a partner. I wouldn’t be at a company that didn’t let me be authentically me because I couldn’t thrive there. So don’t just try to get a job; try to hire a company.
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