Maxwell angles for women’s perspective in fishing

Christine Maxwell M’23 works for Northland Fishing Tackle whose tagline is “made by fishermen, for fishermen.”

In her position as CFO and vice president of operations, Maxwell reminds her colleagues that women fish too. And she’s got photos with some impressive catches to prove it.

“All the time people are surprised I’m the CFO. All the time,” she said. “People will come in and ask to speak with a manager, and when I come to the front, they’ll say, ‘I’ve already been helped, thanks, but I’m looking for the manager.’ It’s 2023, but this is a heavily male dominated industry, being in manufacturing and leisure fishing tackle.

“But I’ve worked for the Army and Boeing Company — and all in finance, which is also male dominated, so I’m used to it. It pushes me a little harder,” she said. “I’m good at my job because I’m a problem solver. When you work for a smaller company, you wear a lot of hats. Every day I’m learning something new, doing something different, and I never know what I’ll step into.”

The unpredictability and the challenge is part of why Maxwell loves her job. “No day is the same. I have to triage what’s going on. I’m good at what I do; I think the job fits me well,” she said,

Maxwell had just moved to Bemidji, Minn., about the time COVID-19 hit.

As she began looking to re-enter an office setting, she applied for her position at the Bemidji-based Northland Fishing Tackle. Although she had 15 years of finance and contracted sales experience and a bachelor’s degree in finance, she didn’t have the experience or the degree in accounting she needed.

After being turned down for the position, and after hearing similar feedback during her job search, Maxwell decided to do something about it. She applied to Saint Mary’s M.S. in Accounting program in March of 2021. She shared the news with her recruiter, who notified the CEO of Northland Fishing Tackle.

“He said, ‘Call her back and tell her she’s hired.’ He liked that I was willing to go and get what I needed and wanted,” Maxwell said.

The flexibility of the online program worked with Maxwell’s busy schedule and with starting a new position. She also said — as she was interested in getting her CPA license and had an undergrad degree in finance — Saint Mary’s was one of the few master’s programs that would have qualified for her to sit for the Minnesota exam after earning her master’s degree.

An added bonus: “Things I was learning in class would immediately apply at work or vice versa,” she said. “The things happening in my job were things we were learning about in class. Or, things happening at my work could be brought into classroom conversations. I also liked that it was self paced, and you could study on your own. I could be a CFO, a mother, have a family, have a life, and still go to school. I enjoyed learning from other students and their experiences as well.”

Maxwell said she’s grateful to work for a smaller family-oriented business that values its employees, men and women. “I’m fortunate to work at a place where if my child is sick, they’d tell me to go take care of my family, but they would treat a male counterpart the same way. It’s not only because I’m the mom.”

Northland was started in 1975 by John Peterson, who remains a part owner, and his family works in the business — which, headquartered in Bemidji, sells nationwide, particularly in the Midwest.

“We make all kinds of fishing tackle and accessories for the northern fishermen, people who specialize in walleye, pike, panfish, and bass. We’ve come a long way in marketing, sales, and ERP systems in the past 50 years,” she said.

While she admits she didn’t know much about fishing when she first started working for Northland, now she said, she’s out on the water a lot, year round. “Everyone here fishes and is passionate about it, and it’s hard not to when you work with professionals; you get all the inside information,” she said.

Although Maxwell is only one of three women at her company and the only one in management, she said she feels respected.

“I don’t think a woman should be intimidated by a job that’s traditionally in a male dominated field just because everyone else they see is male,” she said. “Women can do anything a man can do and vice versa.

“Women, we put it on ourselves too,” she adds. “We don’t always treat ourselves the way we treat our male counterparts. We don’t give ourselves the same grace as we give men.”

Maxwell believes women have to continue pushing themselves. “We can’t sit back and wait for it to happen,” she said. “As the only female on the management team, I use my voice to bring diversity to the team, and that’s important. Although the majority of our customers are men, that is changing. More and more women are wanting to become anglers. What would women like? Do we make clothing in sizes and styles for women? And when we’re promoting, who does the shopping in most households for Christmas and birthdays? If we are only marketing toward men, we’re going to miss out on the population that does gifting. To escape that male-centered mentality has been helpful.”

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