Blog Mar 08, 2021

Childhood Vision and a Supportive Corporate World have been the Driver for 3M’s Canadian President, Penny Wise


When Penny Wise was a child, she recalls a time when she was playing in her parents’ backyard with her friends. She can remember talking to her friends about what they wanted to be when they grew up and realizing she didn’t want what they wanted – she wanted to lead. This childhood interaction was, perhaps, a premonition of things to come.  

Wise has now spent the last twenty years of her career at 3M spanning various positions. From marketing and brand positioning to becoming the first Canadian woman to be the President of 3M Canada. She credits 3M as an incredibly supportive and encouraging employer for its employees; her career’s longevity implies that this is the case.  

Adding to Penny’s accomplishments, she also became the co-chair of the Canadian Chamber’s Council for Women’s Advocacy (CWA). We had the chance to speak at the end of 2020 to capture some of her thoughts about the CWA, its initiatives, and how she hopes the Council can make inroads for women. 

Recently, the CWA came forward with five priority areas where it believes the government needs to make changes to support women in the workforce. Childcare, women’s entrepreneurship, and recovery funding for upskilling and re-skilling women were highlights of their priorities. The federal government’s Speech from the Throne made some verbal commitments regarding childcare.   

Wise believes the CWA’s five priorities fall into two buckets – short and long term. The short-term asks are crucial commitments that immediately help Canada’s economy as we deal with the pandemic’s effects. The most critical, from Penny’s perspective, is safe, reliable access to daycare.  

With regards to long-term commitments, Ms. Wise wants the CWA to push for advancements in women entering non-traditional careers, like trades for example. Society, educational institutions, and the workforce all have work to do to give women the aspirations to work in these non-traditional areas. During the pandemic, technology adoption fosters the ability for women in remote areas to connect at job fairs and with industry mentors. 

Penny’s career path has been momentous. She credits mentors as a vital asset to have in her career. As Penny sees her own daughter entering the workforce during a pandemic and a recession, she understands it will not be easy for the younger generation. She mapped out three factors young women should keep in mind when heading into the workforce:  

Be aware of the world’s limitations: Females entering the workstream have pre-set limitations for what they can accomplish and what jobs and roles are acceptable. Do not let these limitations control where you want to be in your career. 

Find your voice and use it: Speak up, lean in, and use your voice when you feel necessary. It is OK to use your voice and for your voice to be heard for your valued opinions.  

Continue to be stubborn: You will be your greatest advocate. If your first attempt does not work, create new pathways to make it to your goal.  

As Canada makes its way out of this pandemic, Penny sees our economy dependent upon women maintaining their place in business and leadership positions. The government must act on the CWA’s short-term actions to ensure women have the necessary resources to keep their business positions. Commitments to the long-term priorities will continue to help women propel forward in Canada and ensure they do not lose any progress. 

The CWA is a cornerstone of the Canadian Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiative, established to bring the voice and perspectives of women to national policies, inform the Canadian ‘ ‘Chamber’s initiatives in advancing the gender equality agenda, and drive meaningful action to address the identified issues and barriers. The CWA will continue to explore recommendations that the federal government can implement to support women through the recovery period, alongside looking at best practices and guidance for the business community.