Marci Ien is a driving force in Canadian broadcast journalism. She has reported on a total of six federal elections, was the news anchor for CTV’s coverage of the 2012 Winter Olympics Games, and on November 24, 2011, she became the co-host of CANADA AM – CTV’s national morning show. With over three decades of journalistic experience, this year Ien will be celebrating her tenth year working with CANADA AM. In anticipation of International Women’s Day, Arthur spoke with Ien and heard her thoughts on female empowerment, equal access to education, and her professional achievements as a female journalist.
Hello, Marci. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We are thrilled to be featuring you as an example of an incredibly successful woman working in the field of Canadian journalism. How did you get to where you are today?
Oh, what a journey! Where do I start? When I was ten years old, I went blindly to this audition with my parents and got a call back, and then another call back. I was offered a role on the show Circle Square. It really shaped the future for me. A lot of the people working on it were freelance, and I got to know these professionals who had carved out lives in the television world. This ended when I was sixteen. I finished up high school a semester early, worked for a bit, and then went to Ryerson for Radio and Television. My final year of school, my friend told me about a writing job, suggesting I apply for it. I did so. When I graduated they hired me full time. I was with CHCH-TV for a better part of six years. In 1995 I reported from Queen’s Park, in Toronto. Then I began working for CTV.
Have you had any strong female role models in your life?
Yes, several. Most of them, I have to say, were family members. My parents both came here some 45 years ago from Trinidad. My mom started her career a little later than my dad. She became an accountant. I remember as a kid watching while she worked for the government during the day and studied for her exams at night, striving to get her accounting degree. I saw her persevering through all of it, getting her accounting degree in her thirties, building a career and watching her succeed.
I also have a sister who is amazing and has three girls. She has raised them in such a way that they are such responsible, good kids. When it comes to mentors and role models, I have got to look at my family first because my mom and sister have been amazing. My sister is seven years my elder, and in many ways she was like a second mother growing up.
As a mother yourself and co-host of Canada AM, how do you balance your work and personal life?
You know what, Jennifer, I’ll tell you – it can get absolutely insane. A couple of years ago, I realized that I just couldn’t balance, in every sense of the word. I had to throw the whole idea of balance right out the window. We put so much pressure on ourselves as women to do it all well. We think we need to have the career and succeed, to have the family and make sure that everyone is well taken care of, to keep our marriage going, deal with aging parents, and be a friend. How do we juggle all of those balls?
What I realized was that I was putting so much pressure on myself and getting so stressed out about it that I had to back up. What I ended up doing was just being present in the moment. By that I mean, when I’m with my kids, I am with my kids. My phone is off. When I’m doing my job and working, then that is the moment I am living in. But there will never be a time when each gets exactly 50/50. Sometimes it’s more family, other times it’s more work. Really it is about quality more so than quantity. We put so much pressure on ourselves as women to do it all well that it becomes ridiculous.
I have to say, too, that it has always bugged me that men don’t get asked this question, and that highlights the predicament of women furthermore. Men don’t get asked about balance. When do you ever hear men being asked about how they balance their family life and work life? We don’t talk about it, but it’s true. No one is pointing a finger at men and asking, “Are you spending enough time with your kids? With your spouse? Your parents?” Why is all the pressure on women? So, I say throw balance out the window and just do the very best that you possibly can.
Your CTV biography states that you have a passion for education. Do you have any thoughts on the limitations placed on women seeking an education in certain parts of the world, or how to empower women through equal access to education?
I went to Sri Leone a couple of years ago to do an audit for a group dedicated to human rights. I was there to make sure that the journalists were being allowed to report on any human rights cases. I met with a women’s group. These were females, young journalists between the ages of 20 to 35. I will never forget sitting down and having a meal with them one day and just listening to their stories. There were two women who said, “We are in these newsrooms, but we are treated unequally. We have editors who will say this story is happening, but not until five o’clock. Well, at five o’clock, you have to be at home to make dinner for your family, so there is no way you can cover that. Or if there happened to be a heavy news story, you could never cover that.”
Then it got even more serious, because the women said that when they did cover events that were big, headline making stories, people made threats, sometimes against their life, because of how they covered it. As a result, editors were afraid to put them on big stories again. These are women who risk things in order to bring certain stories to light. They had no qualms about it. So, whether it is a woman risking her life because she wants to be educated like how boys in her society are educated, or risking one’s life because you want to make sure that you are going to be a part of something where hope will occur for women in society as a whole, these are selfless, selfless women. It’s just amazing.
We take so much for granted here as journalists in a free world, in a country where we can report on how we choose to face things. And I did take it for granted, until in Sri Leone I heard about how one woman was threatened, another beaten at an event that she went to, yet she still went back. These are the kinds of things happening every day, let alone the Malala Yousafzai story and what happened to that young girl just because she stood up and said, “I am equal to the boys in this society. I deserve a right to be educated. All girls deserve a right to be educated.” Look what happened to her. But she is still speaking from her hospital bed, and women around the world are still reporting.
A majority of our readers are young women studying at the university. Our generation right now is experiencing a lot of negativity around getting a higher education and being unable to find future jobs. As someone who has put in the time and effort to get to where she is, what advice would you give these women who are aspiring to reach their career goals?
There is real power in these two little letters: N.O. There is power in the word “no.” I have heard that word so many times. No, you will not make it in this business. No, you can’t have that job. No, you can’t intern here. No, you can’t do this. What you do when you hear that word is really going to determine your life path. Do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and say, “You know what? I don’t care what they say. I’m going to keep striving, keep studying, keep researching, keep reading, and keep learning. I am going to do everything in my power to make it in my chosen profession.”
There are so many who fall along the wayside because they listened to someone who told them that they couldn’t do it. My advice to young women would be this: don’t stop. If this is what you really want to do, stay focused. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. There is a lot to learn in those bumps. Don’t give up! It may sound cliché, but it’s so very true.