Women in Municipal Finance Series

For 2024, MFOA is celebrating the trailblazers and resilient women in Ontario's municipal finance sector. On March 8, we kicked off our "Women in Municipal Finance Series" with a lively panel discussion and will continue the momentum with monthly articles featuring the industry's leaders and up-and-coming professionals. Check back every month through this webpage, our e-Newsletter, or our LinkedIn page.

Women in Municipal Finance Series: Promoting Innovation with Christine Leon

As part of our “Women in Municipal Finance Series”, MFOA is highlighting inspiring and trailblazing women across Ontario’s municipal finance sector. This month, we met with Christine Leon, the Director of Finance/Treasurer for the Town of Petawawa. While new to the sector, Christine’s passion for learning and innovation can inspire others to be open to change.

Being an Advocate for Efficiency and Technology

Christine: While I’ve had a short career in municipal finance, just shy of a year and a half, one of my proudest achievements is being an advocate for efficiency and technology. I want to encourage the use of technology, and I challenge my staff and other departments to think about how they can do things differently and to question our current practices.

Staff now approach me asking if they can try new processes, and I’ve told them they do not need my permission, but we can sit down and discuss their plans and work through any issues that may arise. I’m all for empowering that thought process, rather than pressing the button day in and day out because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

I also encourage others to document EVERYTHING. Instead of handwriting everything, put it in a spreadsheet and start documenting how you completed the task. If you have to do a task annually, you can digitally save the process and skip having to remember how you did it before. Don’t just document the how, but also document the “why.”

Embracing technology may seem like an impossible task for smaller municipalities, but it isn’t. We just have to encourage people to try. There are so many small opportunities for efficiencies, even just using Microsoft Teams, chat tools, and checking other’s schedules in Outlook can make a big difference.

Advice on Networking and Building Relationships

Christine: Regionally, there are often Clerks and Treasurer’s Associations that can be very beneficial for learning, but you shouldn’t rely on just regional areas, because you will get fresh ideas when you get more perspectives from outside of that “bubble”. When I first joined the municipal finance sector, I Googled what was available for networking opportunities and came across MFOA and the New Professionals Network (NPN).

The municipal finance community has been very welcoming, especially to someone who isn’t afraid to ask questions. Building that network has been very helpful, and it’s fulfilling when you are able to provide feedback and help others.

On How to Make Your Voice Heard

Christine: I’m still new, so I am still at that point where asking questions is easier to do. I have a thick skin, so I’m not afraid to tell people that I have no clue, because I want to get things right. The important thing is to have the right timing and tone when asking questions. When I am in a senior management meeting or talking to Council, I use humour and analogies, as it goes a long way to being relatable and connecting with others, especially when they are not familiar with financial concepts and requirements.

Another tip is to learn to be patient and understand the “why”. When I first started my career in accounting, I had the perception that everything had to be black and white. As a result, I had some very knee jerk reactions that may have had the wrong effect and rubbed people the wrong way. But over time, I developed patience to understand the “why” versus providing my opinion of why  and soliciting feedback and input from others to get buy in with the change.

Continuous Improvement

Christine: From a personal and professional perspective, having a continuous improvement mindset is essential. I feel very fortunate that I started in the private sector and now have a different perspective from others that can lead to important changes to the municipality and the way we do things. Being in a different environment allows you to see things differently.

I was recently at the Ontario Education Collaboration Marketplace (OECM) conference, and there was a really good presenter on AI and robotic process automation (RPA). It’s in the back of my mind as something I want to learn more about. I need to personally take the time to learn, not just for my current job but for my career. We are pressured in every industry to do more with less and technology can help do that. I don’t want technology to take my job, but I need to embrace technology.

Suggested Readings and Videos on Leadership and Work Culture

Christine: A few years ago, a manager gave me a book called Dare to Lead by Brene Brown that opened my eyes to being a better leader and person in general. The tag line of the book is “Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts”. I used to have a “Work Christine” that was colder, but this book changed my approach that you have to bring your whole self to work. The book talks about vulnerability and that clear is kind (being unclear about your expectations and avoiding the issue is unkind and sets up others for failure). I think it is important to try to encourage an environment where staff are comfortable to ask questions.

I came across a Ted Talk by Drew Dudley on Everyday Leadership, which teaches us that leadership should not be on a pedestal, that small actions we do as leaders can make the biggest impact. Some days I feel committed and confident in my plans and actions as a leader, and other times I feel completely derailed. But, as long as I am moving in the right direction it’s making a difference.

Other suggested readings: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott, and Breaking Through “Bitch”: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly by Carol Vallone Mitchell.


Women in Municipal Finance Series -  Past Articles


Recent Job Postings

View All     Post a Job