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Women in Leadership

Nancy Sherman began ‘jumping in’ long before Sheryl Sandberg introduced the concept of ‘leaning in.’ Nancy has been a trailblazer ever since.

From an expert in international development projects to the former dean at a Toronto college and acting dean of Humber FAST, Nancy Sherman has had an impressive 50-year career.

However, when you ask her to recall what inspired her remarkable career path, Nancy laughs and shines a spotlight on her moral imperative: jump in. “People occasionally ask me about my career path,” says Sherman. “I had no path. Boomers believed the future would be bright so when an opportunity presented itself, we just jumped in!”

Sherman’s unique ability to respect and recognize the interrelation of economic, social, cultural, environmental and political factors has made her both highly successful and widely admired.

Nancy has worked in more than 15 countries in a diverse range of sectors including sustainable development, agriculture, early childhood education and technology. She has developed an appreciation for, and skills in, leading interdisciplinary teams which is increasingly the hallmark of “environmental management.”

“I have a little bit of knowledge in a thousand different things that has allowed me to be flexible in my career,” says Sherman.

“I live by the belief that if you continue to learn and put up your hand to volunteer, it will position you to follow your heart and be ready for opportunities that appear before you. Every little experience somehow gets stuck to another experience.”

Nancy Sherman

Following her remarkable achievements abroad, Nancy returned to Canada where she had a successful 20-year career at George Brown College as Director of International, Acting Registrar and Dean of the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies (CCET). She contributed to the college increasing its efforts in sustainability and was involved in the introduction of a module for all students in CCET promoting respect in the workplace.

In 2015, Nancy returned to a consultancy practice in strategic planning, higher education, and internationalization. When the college approached her in 2016 to be the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences & Technology, she was ideally positioned to take the helm which was no easy task.

“The group was very unsettled,” she recalls. “As one of the largest colleges in Canada, there was a need for me to begin bonding with people and dig deep to ensure I had a clear understanding of the inner-workings of every department.”

With a birds-eye view, she strengthened the framework so faculty and staff would have multiple opportunities to have their voices heard and more importantly, allow everyone to have a leadership role with the confidence that FAST could positively move forward. In early 2017, she comfortably passed the leadership baton to Dr. Farzad Rayegani and has since maintained an excellent relationship with her Humber colleagues and continues to consult for the college.

When asked about her leadership philosophy, her response is humbling. “I believe in servant leadership,” she replies. “Serving the people that I report to but more importantly, serving people that report to me.”

One of the biggest challenges she faced during her tenure at both colleges is securing funding for applied education. “When you are in a leadership role, fundraising is added to your to-do list,” says Sherman. “However, fundraising is relationship building. You have to focus on your constituency, who are hiring your graduates, and serve them well.”

She reinforces the need for colleges to remind themselves that although the day to day is important, it needs to be informed with what is happening in your community and a need to connect in multiple, authentic ways. “It’s not easy, but so rewarding when you have this relationship with stakeholders that is so multi-dimensional. Once you establish that multi-faceted relationship, the scholarships, co-op placements and donations fall into place. The relationship becomes absolutely glorious!”

This past year, she recognizes the challenges her colleagues have faced both professionally and personally, some more difficult than others, and is reminded that her wellbeing depends on the web of interdependence that involves people from near and far and in all stations of life.

“This last year has reinforced how interconnected we are and the importance to appreciate who, we now realize, are essential workers,” says Nancy.

“There have been some painful gains and innovations, including applying technology to education. There is an opportunity to advance these innovations and build on the lessons learned from this pandemic.”

Since the beginning of her career, Nancy has not only been a pioneering female leader, but she has used her position to further the cause of many women and positively contribute to the construction industry. A recipient of the 2015 Donald P. Giffin, Sr. Construction Industry Achievement Award, Nancy was recognized by the Toronto Construction Association for her major contributions to the construction industry.

Nancy has accomplished all these milestones while simultaneously raising two children. As society wrestles with and talks about how to achieve more equitable work/life balance, Nancy is proof that you can do a spectacular job at both.

“I have enjoyed every job I ever had with no regrets,” says Sherman. “Now I take great pride spending time with my grandchildren and helping them including with their online learning.”

She believes that may be her most enduring legacy.