Jenna Hazelton grew up watching her mom Janet, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, fight for health-care workers’ rights. Her mom was her role model and now Jenna, too, is breaking barriers — in her case, in the traditionally male-dominated field of engineering.

By Lola Augustine Brown

Growing up, Jenna Hazelton (BEng’11) always had a strong role model in her mother, Janet Hazelton (MPA’10), who is perhaps best-known as the long-serving president of Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU) — a position that has enabled her to advocate for nurses and health care.

While raising Jenna and her brother, and working, Janet has simultaneously sat on committees including the Workers Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Board and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions Board.

“My mom has always stood up for what she believes in. She’s built a fantastic career because of it,” says Jenna.

In the decades Janet has been advocating for nurses, she has been instrumental in striking several important policy changes through the collective bargaining process. This includes 2011’s Nurse Identity deal, where her union negotiated that all acute care nurses wear white tops and black bottoms to identify themselves to patients and their families.

“Previously, it was hard to identify acute care nurses, as other staff, including physio, clerical and kitchen staff, all wear scrubs,” Janet says. Having the ‘uniform’ also helped show the stark shortage of acute care nurses. “We were the first nurses’ union to do this; others have since adopted this policy.”

Continuing her education

Several years into her role as NSNU president, Janet decided to enroll in the master’s degree in Public Administration at Dalhousie.

Going back to school was difficult, Janet says. Not only was it another thing to balance on her already-full plate, she recalls taking an especially challenging accounting course, a subject she’d never previously needed as a nurse. “It had been so long since I’d written papers and been judged and marked.”

As a union leader studying alongside many in government management positions with completely different preconceptions about the role of unions, Janet says she found herself in a lot of challenging conversations, from which she was able to better understand their perspective, and vice versa.

Multi-generational motivation

It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree and Jenna is just as motivated as her mother. The biggest challenge in Jenna’s career, she says, has been staying true to herself to make it in a very-much male-dominated industry. “You really have to believe in what you’re bringing to the table,” she says.

After earning an engineering diploma from the Agricultural Campus in 2009, Jenna completed her degree at Dalhousie. During her time as a student, she started with J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI), working in the summers, then was offered a position as a process engineer upon graduation, before quickly moving up the ranks and taking on positions that both challenged and excited her. In 2017, Jenna became one of the youngest general managers with JDI. She says the advancement opportunities are something she loves about working for a company with so many industries.

Currently, Jenna holds the title of General Manager at CFM and PumpsPlus, but before that was General Manager of Irving Wallboard. Like her mom, Jenna is a lifelong learner who returned to do a graduate degree, earning an Executive MBA through JDI’s program with Ivey Business School at Western University in 2018.

Embracing challenges

Though mother and daughter chose very different career fields, both have been able to evolve and grow within those fields.

“Neither one of us would be happy doing the same thing forever,” explains Jenna. “We always want to broaden our experiences and we’re not overly great at sitting still for long.”

Now, it’s Janet’s turn to be inspired by Jenna.

“Jenna has always been focused and driven,” she says, adding that her daughter has reinforced for her time and time again that hard work pays off.