Woman, mother, immigrant… and Vice President


To wrap up Diversity Month, we invited Rita Kataroyan, Vice President of Strategy, Innovation and Marketing at Le Groupe Maurice, to share her story. As guardian of the brand image for nearly 20 years, she has spearheaded the company’s positioning and communications since its early days. Her in-depth knowledge of the reality of older adults and the private seniors’ residences industry has made her a versatile and essential leader in the organization. Meet this extraordinary woman of Armenian descent, whose identity goes beyond her professional title. At her core, she is a woman, a mother and a partner… driven by her heart and unwavering in her values.

Rita, you’re of Armenian origin, but you were born here, right?

Yes, that’s correct. My parents immigrated in 1968, and I was born in 1973. I’m the only one in my family born in Montreal. I remember we lived in a small apartment… always packed with people. Over the years, many family members came to join us, arriving with almost nothing. So, we became their host family until they found a place to live. I can tell you that I know the St. Joseph’s Oratory and Niagara Falls like the back of my hand!

Every time someone new arrived, we’d take them on a tour of the sights (laughs). But it was ALIVE, it was FUN! There were always lots of people around the dinner table at night, laughing and sharing stories. There was mutual support, solidarity… it was humanity at its best.

Do you feel more Armenian or Quebecois?

Both, because although I was born here, I grew up and was heavily involved in Montreal’s Armenian community. So, I experienced the dichotomy that anyone from a foreign country feels: the desire to integrate into their new home, but also to preserve their heritage and origins. This dichotomy never goes away, you just learn to manage it. Because it’s not about where you’re physically born. Your true identity is shaped by the environment you grow up in and the people you surround yourself with every day.

Have you ever experienced discrimination related to your ethnic origin?

No, fortunately. But I believe it’s because I attended schools and socialized with people from the same cultural background as mine throughout my youth. I felt safe because I was rarely confronted with diversity. It was at university that I really opened up to the world. I deliberately chose to attend the University of Montreal to improve my integration into Quebec culture. But what contributed most to this familiarization was marrying a Quebecer – a bleuet from Lac-Saint-Jean, no less! – and working for nearly 20 years in a Quebec company. Where I have felt discrimination, however, is related to my gender.

Really? Being a woman was more challenging than being an immigrant?

Absolutely. Mainly in my workplace, especially early on; and it affected not just me but all the amazing women I worked with. I often felt that our gender influenced people’s perception of us. When I was younger, I made so much effort to prove my intelligence, to “earn my place!”

And despite all those efforts, the impression I left was often based on my physical appearance. It affected me deeply when I heard people describe me with qualities that had nothing to do with my ambitions. I always wondered, “But do they really see me?”

Fortunately, we have something to be proud of at Le Groupe Maurice: our executive committee stands out for its gender parity, reflecting values of equality and fairness. That said, this is not the norm, and the effort women must sometimes wield to be taken seriously, to be valued at their worth, is far greater than that of men. There is still much work to be done to achieve true equity in society.

What do you think is the reason for this?

I believe we lack intrinsic self-confidence, which prevents us from valuing ourselves. Men have an easier time telling themselves, ‘If I don’t have all the required qualities for this position, it’s not a big deal, I’ll learn.’ On the other hand, women wait until they possess all the requested criteria before applying. They then miss out on great opportunities. It’s a real shame…

And then, there are unconscious biases. Research has shown that in recruitment, we judge the relevance of a male candidate based on his potential, but for a woman, it’s based on her experience. I struggle to finish this sentence because it infuriates me so much. This is where the importance of solidarity comes in, remembering together that we have everything we need – and more! – to succeed. “Do it, go for it, ask your question! Take your place! And dare to sit at the head of the table in meetings!” That’s what I want to tell women.

What’s the greatest strength of women in your opinion?

There are many. Sensitivity and emotional intelligence are part of it. When I reflect on my career, these qualities have been the basis of several major decisions I’ve made. They’ve served me well, big time! They’re definitely my greatest strengths, as they tap into my instinct and intuition. It’s rare to go wrong when you listen to your inner voice. Yet, I’ve often felt that it was seen as a professional “flaw” by others.

Does a woman need to embody masculine attitudes and values to become a vice president?

That’s a good question… that I don’t have an answer to. I can only speak to how I’ve experienced my career path. After almost 20 years in the same organization, I’ve proven myself. I need to keep performing, but my colleagues know my worth.

Early in my career, I tried to project a more masculine attitude, for better or worse, in both my approach and my worldview. I thought I’d be more likely to achieve my goals with that facade. The key word here is “façade”. Now that I no longer fear for my credibility, I can show vulnerability and my feminine side without worrying it will work against me.

My wish is for men to meet us halfway, to increasingly embrace feminine values. I believe that men who can listen, show empathy and aren’t afraid to display vulnerability are the ones who stand out the most. Achieving this balance within each of us is our salvation, in my opinion.

It’s still unfortunate that the reflex is to hide one’s femininity to succeed professionally, right?

Yes, indeed… but in my role, there are many responsibilities to assume. We have objectives to achieve, and I didn’t see how it could have been otherwise. It requires discipline and may give the impression of being unemotional, but it also comes with exciting challenges. It’s a demanding position where many decisions have to be made that will impact numerous people. Not just anyone can be a vice president; you have to be willing to make certain sacrifices. But it also comes with many rewards.

But I’m also a woman, a mom, a friend, a sister… I’ve been a daughter and a natural caregiver to my parents. To juggle all these responsibilities at once, I have to be exacting with my time, planning every day and every minute, even down to what I eat and when. It’s a busy life. But I’m also someone who thrives on adrenaline. I enjoy it, in a way, because it’s the choice I made and no one forced me into it. I’m not going to play the victim here.

But then, how did you manage to balance all these roles?

In hindsight, I think it’s because I didn’t want to sacrifice anything. From the outside, it seemed like I was a “superwoman”, but that wasn’t the case – I was exhausted. Every day. All the time. Everything was perfect; my career, my family, my home… all of it! Just realize this: each thing I did brought me a lot of happiness. What had a detrimental effect was doing them all at the same time, without ever compromising on perfection. That’s unhealthy.

I must also give enormous credit to my husband. We often talk about the importance of surrounding ourselves with good people at work, but it’s even more true at home. If I’ve been able to balance all my roles, it’s thanks to my partner’s constant presence. He’s the greatest source of balance in my life, a pillar who understands how to encourage me as much as protect me, all while pursuing his own career! He saw things in me that I didn’t even know existed and convinced me that I had the right to pursue equality.

If you had to do it again, what would you change?

I would prioritize so much more! You have to know how to put things aside, be able to tell yourself “this can wait”. I didn’t do that. Everything was at the same level of importance… and I paid the price. I gave too much. I’m ONLY NOW starting to be able to better balance my life.

If I were coaching women, I would definitely give them this advice: prioritizing means being able to truly let something go, both physically and mentally. As women, we have a constant mental load. Even when we’re somewhere, we’re thinking about where we’re not. We exhaust ourselves thinking about what’s happening in our absence. That’s not prioritizing.

And then, in a role like vice president, you’re so conditioned to make decisions and be proactive, that it’s sometimes hard not to be that way at home too. You have to learn to let go, to let others decide too. The trap, when you have a demanding job, is to identify too closely with your professional role. You have to be extremely vigilant because it’s not healthy for anyone.

 But isn’t it your tenacity that led you to succeed in life?

What is success, really? Today, I can say that success is feeling free, alive and having no regrets. It’s doing things that bring me joy. It has nothing to do with my title or position; it’s how I feel intrinsically that matters. It’s no longer about seeking happiness outside of myself. It seems simple, but I can confirm that it’s poorly mastered by many, including myself for many years.

Did you think that early in your career you had to do more than others to feel accomplished?

Yes. I wanted to show people that I was more than just a “pretty face”. I had to push myself hard to do so. The most anxiety-provoking moment I experienced in my professional life – despite having to manage big files, huge projects, and large teams – was being in a meeting at 4 pm on October 31st, while I had 2 children waiting for me at home to dress them up for Halloween. Fortunately, I now see a wonderful evolution: where work-life balance is now part of employees’ expectations and increasingly a priority for companies… and rightly so!

Are you optimistic about the progress of women in the corporate world?

We’re heading in the right direction, but it’s not advancing quickly enough. Even today, in North America, the rate of higher education (master’s and doctoral levels) is higher among women than men. But, too often, women’s salaries are lower. The proportion of women on boards of directors or the number of female CEOs is also low. We know it’s not because they lack skills. So, what’s holding them back? There are still some challenges…

Are the challenges with the woman, or in the workplace?

I believe both. Any healthy relationship is bidirectional: it takes an open, respectful and welcoming environment, as well as a person who shows the willingness to defy prejudices.

There is still a lot of stigmas. I recently realized that, for a long time, I would say I was responsible for marketing when I met someone, not vice president. It’s crazy, right? As if I was afraid of being judged or coming across as boastful if I mentioned my title. I worked hard to get there, though. A man would never do that.

What’s the solution, in your opinion? Where should we start?

By becoming aware of all that we are. We must, every day, recognize our strengths and value the qualities that make us so unique, so strong. We need to have a more honest and fair way of seeing ourselves.

Is there a future for women in executive roles?

Yes, but certain things need to change. The studies have been done: 40% of women in executive positions have to abandon their career or are given fewer responsibilities with the onset of menopause. This reality contributes to widening the gap between men and women.

 The lack of understanding of women’s physical and emotional realities is glaring, and it must be acknowledged. We need to begin a dialogue on the subject to generate more empathy and seek answers. At Le Groupe Maurice, we’re fortunate. With our humane and attentive management, there’s hope for us to emancipate ourselves even more as professionals. I wouldn’t have stayed with the company for so long if that weren’t the case.

Will the labour shortage force companies to be more open to the reality of women in the workplace?

Beyond the labour shortage, it’s the new generation of employees that will dictate the way forward. The leaders of tomorrow are our children! They are open-minded, capable of setting boundaries and want to save the planet without compromising their individual well-being.

This will help women. They will learn from our mistakes and do better until it becomes the norm, and we no longer need examples. I think that’s how real change will occur, and if I’ve been able to contribute to that in my immediate environment, that will be my true success for the time to come.

The future is promising, I’m sure of it. And if I don’t get to witness it in my lifetime, I’ll come back to Earth to see it… as an Armenian woman, of course!

Rita, your candor, transparency and generosity are truly inspiring. Your story will undoubtedly resonate with many and help us move forward in our journey towards diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Thank you for sharing your light with us.