WATERLOO — In her decades-long career with the Waterloo Regional Police, acting Deputy Chief Shirley Hilton says one of her biggest challenges has been battling her own self-doubt.
During a panel discussion at the annual Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce International Women’s Day breakfast on Friday, Hilton stressed the importance of shaking negative self-talk and believing in yourself.
“I’ll use my current situation right now, as the acting deputy chief. When I learned of that appointment I had some serious self-doubt,” she told the crowd.
“I was in my own head explaining to myself all the reasons I didn’t deserve the job, rather than all the reasons I did deserve the job.”
In December, Hilton became the first woman in the regional police service to take on the deputy chief role.
“You have to stop comparing yourself,” she told the crowd. “You have to put your shoulders back and raise your head and say, ‘I deserve to be here.'”
Hilton started her policing career with the Waterloo Regional Police Service in 1990. She has worked in different roles including front line patrol officer and within the general investigations unit, homicide unit, drug unit and professional standards.
As she moved up the ranks, she said inevitably some people would say “she got that position or she got promotion because she’s a woman.” But she said she always has had a great support system of co-workers and family members who know her true value and accomplishments.
One of those accomplishments includes her leadership role in creating a threat assessment tool used by the force to prioritize cases in investigations by focusing on public safety. She also has been a part of the team that launched the annual Women in Leadership forum. Hilton is now a member of the forum’s steering committee which was created to launch the annual event and deliver a formal career mentorship program for women working in the regional police service.
While a career in policing was something Hilton knew she wanted to pursue from a young age, she never imagined she would end up where she has.
“I did want to be a canine officer and that didn’t occur,” she said. “And I’m happy it didn’t occur because then I wouldn’t have spent the 13 years in investigations, which was a clear passion for me … which has opened doors to where I am right now.”
Hilton joined two other women on the panel Friday for the discussion moderated by Waterloo Regional Chair Karen Redman. Lauren Lake, co-founder of construction-focused tech company Bridgit, and Lilika Beck, vice-president of global marketing at the hearing aid manufacturer Unitron, also talked about their career achievements, work-life balance and challenges they have faced.
For Hilton, sharing her story with an audience that included female high school students and business professionals was important. She wanted the audience to know that it’s normal to encounter challenges as they move through their careers.
“Everybody has a story, everybody has a background, and what publicly resonates with those that are listening is that, what you see isn’t always what you get,” she said following her talk. “Have I experienced some obstacles and hurdles? Of course I have. Have doors closed and other doors opened? Yes, they have. The challenges are what make this a really good career.”
International Women’s Day is March 8. This year’s theme is Balance for Better, with a focus on celebrating women’s achievements while calling for a more gender-balanced world.
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