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The State of Women in Capital Markets

Interview with the President and CEO of Women in Capital Markets, Jennifer Reynolds, by Karen Christensen

What companies need to do to get more women and people of diverse backgrounds in leadership roles.

Jennifer ReynoldsYour job entails advocating for the importance of gender diversity to the Canadian economy. How would you summarize your argument?

If you want to have a competitive edge, it just makes sense to use the whole talent pool. How can you possibly think you’ve got the best talent, if 50 per cent of the talent pool is absent from your leadership team? In Canada, 62 per cent of university graduates today are women, so for those who disqualify women, the leadership pool is actually shrinking.

Most of your career was spent in investment banking. What key lessons did you learn about excelling in this environment?

At the end of the day, it’s about being able to take in a huge amount of information and recognize what’s important, and be able to distill that down into an analysis or argument. Also, the more senior you get, you’ve got to be a great relationship-builder. Certainly, being the only woman in the room presents challenges. When you’re more junior, the differences aren’t as significant, because you’re delivering a more technical end-product; but as you become more senior, the things you are being judged on become more subjective, so biases come into the picture.

Do you see enough organizations moving beyond ‘lip service’ and implementing diversity initiatives?

The big banks are leading the way in terms of the programs they have in place—although their capital markets areas are not as advanced as the rest of the banks. But I do believe that most bigger companies are thinking about this. When you look broadly at Canada, close to 75 per cent of our companies have a market cap of less than one billion. We are an economy of smaller companies, so it can’t just be the big companies and banks doing this: We need the broader economy to think about why they don’t have more gender diversity and how to address that.

I’m pleased to say that there is a very good level of awareness of this issue at the senior levels of our banks. Once you have that buy-in, the harder work needs to be done. The toughest nut to crack is the ‘frozen middle’, as I call it—all of those layers below senior executives—and convincing them that this is really important. That takes time, because it entails a culture shift.

What should every company be doing to build a strong pipeline of female talent?

First, whenever you’re hiring at junior levels, you should be intentional about reaching out specifically to women. Often, when women see a job posting in the capital markets or in a resource sector, they assume it’s male dominated, and they think, ‘That’s probably not for me’. Companies need to convince young women that they are looking for people like them. You also have to be really diligent about having targets. I’m not talking about quotas, but you do need to have goals—like, ‘We are going to hire 50/50 men and women this year’—and make sure that you’ve tasked people with finding the résumés required to make that happen.

From what I’ve seen, most capital markets firms are now trying to hire 50/50. They are making sure that they’re reaching out to women at different universities, and they’re succeeding in finding some really talented young professionals.

You have talked about the importance of building a culture that values diversity of thought. What does such a culture look like?

We need to be more innovative in all industries, not just in technology. And in order to do that, you need diversity of thought. If you’re constantly going back to the same pool of people with similar resources and backgrounds, you’re never going to get that. To achieve it, you need gender diversity, ethnic diversity, and cultural diversity on your teams.

We often talk about ‘fit’ when we hire people, and that can be a dangerous thing, because it often means, ‘Let’s go and hire the same person we hired last time.’ What fit should mean is that you are thinking about all the different pieces of a puzzle, and putting them together to form a great team. To make an analogy, the pieces of a puzzle look very different, but when they are put together, it makes for an optimal end result. I challenge people to think about it that way.

Tell us about your Return to Bay Street Program.

That is one of the things I’m most proud of. We’ve been doing this for six years now. The premise was, in our industry—as in many industries—we need more women at the mid-level. If women have taken a few years off to devote to family, first of all, do they want to come back? And secondly, can they do it? If so, how can we make it work from a business perspective? We don’t want to have them come back and start all over at the bottom of the ladder, we want them to come back in some commensurate role and get them back into the talent pipeline.

We started this program with BMO Capital Markets and since then, we’ve had 34 women go through it. We now have seven institutions involved, because BMO’s competitors saw that this was a great program for bringing back incredibly talented woman who had 10 to 15 years of experience. The key to the program is, you’re not going to lose that 10 or 15 years of valuable experience. The program hasn’t been led by HR. No offence to HR, but you need senior business people to buy into this, and view it as a pool of talent that they wouldn’t have had access to without this type of a program.

I get calls regularly, not just from financial institutions, asking about how people can do this in their industry. I really think this type of program should be in every organization, as part of the talent management program. I’m also a big proponent that men need to be able to take paternity leave — and that the stigma around
that needs to go away. Once it does, I think women’s problems will, to a great degree, get solved too, because family responsibilities will be built into the fabric of a corporate culture. After all, this is something both women and men deal with. We have to find ways to enable them to be great at work and great at home.

Looking ahead, what is the key obstacle in the way of gender equality?

If you ask someone to close their eyes and picture a CEO, chances are that 99 per cent of people will picture a man. We have to challenge those biases and really think about how they are seeping into the so-called meritocracy. As indicated, challenging traditional roles and biases, and putting resources behind things like paternity leave is also critical, because it’s about starting to do things differently — and to think differently about family and work responsibilities. We need to be innovative about that, as well.


Jennifer Reynolds is President and CEO of Women in Capital Markets. Previously, she spent 15 years working in the capital markets industry, primarily in investment banking, holding senior roles with BMO Capital Markets and Stonecap Securities, and in the venture capital industry with OMERS Ventures.


This interview originally appeared in The Inequality Issue (Fall 2017) of Rotman Management. The magazine offers the latest thinking on leadership and innovation and is published three times a year. 

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