Why Sydney Suttor Believes Gender Equality is Not Just a Women’s Issue

Sydney Suttor is a sales and business development professional with over twelve years of experience in North America and Europe. Sydney is currently the Managing Director of BoomStartup, a nationally-ranked seed accelerator which has helped over 175 tech-focused startups secure $55 million in seed funding. She began her career in Canada’s energy sector before relocating to London to work for one of the world’s largest liquor companies. Following that, Sydney took 10 months to focus on writing her debut novel, which has since attracted the attention of several New York literary agents. Sydney and her Australian husband are based in Salt Lake City, and they spend their free time traveling, enjoying outdoor adventures, and sampling craft beers with friends.

Tell us about your time at ExxonMobil in Calgary, Canada? What led you to working with them and what were some of the highlights?

I graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools in spring 2008, and many of my peers were landing investment banking jobs on Wall Street in New York or Bay Street in Toronto. I wanted to live near the Rocky Mountains so I could ski on the weekends, so I reverse-engineered my career path to make that happen.

Calgary – an hour away from Banff and Lake Louise – is where the energy conglomerates are headquartered, and I accepted a position in the Management Trainee Program at ExxonMobil. A few months later, the financial crisis hit, and many of my business school peers lost their jobs. I was incredibly lucky, because the energy sector was experiencing a boom at the time. ExxonMobil was a fantastic place to get my start, because of the exposure to the inner workings of a global giant, plus the training and mentorship opportunities were best-in-class.

What did you like most and least about living in London and working at Diageo? For those that are not familiar with Diageo, tell us about the company.

Not many people have heard of Diageo, but almost everyone has heard of their brands! Diageo is a multinational alcoholic drinks company headquartered in London. Among their brands are Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Tanqueray and Guinness – plus nearly 200 others.

Living in Europe had always been a dream of mine, and I was able to experience that while pivoting to the next phase of my career. Friends of mine have joked that I gravitated from one ‘big evil’ industry to the next, but that wasn’t intentional!

At Diageo, I was responsible for being an expert strategist on consumer behavior – understanding why people make the drink choices they do in different occasions, how that is influenced by social macro trends, and how we should adapt our product line as a result. For instance, consumers are drinking less on the whole, but drinking better when they do, so we placed a lot of focus on premium gin, vodka and whisky. It was fascinating and fun to dive into those dynamics!

And to answer the second part of your question, what I liked the least about living in London was having to leave.

Being originally from Canada, to your time in London and now in Salt Lake, do you feel there are issues that specifically affect women in those regions versus common issues that affect women universally? What are those different issues?

From my perspective, there are common themes that exist for professional women in all three countries:

Double standards are a real thing. We like to pretend they aren’t, but they are. For instance, there was a McKinsey report which showed that men are promoted based on potential, while women are based on past accomplishments. I don’t believe that this is happening intentionally. I believe it comes from an ingrained societal bias which can impact men and women alike. It’s not like I haven’t caught myself making unfair assumptions! The problem is that if it’s below the surface, it’s hard to see, and if it’s hard to see, it’s hard to change.

Women’s networks are a great source of support, but we’re missing a trick. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. We need to engage men in these conversations! In my career, some of the mentors who have propelled me the most have been men. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in front of all-female panels, feeling inspired and energized by the conversation, only to turn around and notice there are only a handful of men sitting at the back of the room. Women have been achieving college degrees at a higher rate than men for decades, but yet the women in top leadership positions has barely budged. It’s time we do things differently. Imagine if we partnered more fully with the other 50% of the population to shift the dial?

Women often think we need to, but we don’t need to “act like men” to succeed. Our unique experiences, talents and perspectives make us powerful. And in that same vein, men shouldn’t need to “act like men” to succeed either. There is a great book by Liz Plank called For the Love of Men which explores the ways in which our culture has reinforced toxic masculinity, and shows that if we can change that, we can change the world for all of us.

What are some goals that you'd like to see Utah achieve for women?

Where do I start? More venture capital for women-owned businesses. More female venture capitalists. More men propelling women. More amazing organizations like the W Collective highlighting female role models! An increased diversity of ideas around the table. To ensure those ideas are actually heard.

What have you enjoyed most about living in Salt Lake City?

Skiing, hiking, golfing, National Parks, living fifteen minutes from an international airport, but most of all, the warm and welcoming people. When I was living in London, if a stranger tried to talk to you on the street, that likely meant you were about to get mugged.

What do you most value in your friends?

Authenticity and a good laugh.

Who are your favorite writers?

Sally Rooney, Stephanie Danler, Celest Ng, Ruth Ware, and Lauren Weisburger to name a few.

Who is your hero of fiction?

I tend to gravitate toward characters who are deeply flawed, but who have leveraged those flaws to forge their own path. For instance, Olivia Pope from Scandal.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I have no idea. This has never been something that has even occurred to me to think about. I just googled “significant historical figures” and the first five results are Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander the Great. All but one in the top ten are white dudes; the tenth being Mahatma Gandhi.

Who are your heroes in real life?

They change as I change – and I’m constantly changing! Right now, I’m really looking up at the incredible female founders and CEO’s that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. One of which is my sister, Tori Dundas, who runs True Curated Designs based in Vancouver!

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