“Be Your Own Biggest Champion”


On November 12, the Desautels Women in Business (DWIB), in partnership with the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) hosted an interactive discussion panel on Women in Finance. The delegation, headed by Jennifer Kerr, head of Private Investments at CPPIB, flew in straight from Toronto to present their firm and its culture, as well as share her insights on career development in the financial services industry.

The CPPIB is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated public pension investment organizations. It is a professional investment management organization that actively promotes high performance. The CPPIB’s single purpose is to invest the long-term assets of the Canada Pension Plan to maximize returns without undue risk of loss on behalf of over 18 million Canadians.

The participants shared personal anecdotes about their various experiences working in the male-dominated field of finance, with one member recalling the days when she used to be the only woman on her team as an employee of another investment bank. The CPPIB representatives discussed their company’s unique culture in the realm of investment management firms. Citing personal examples, they illustrated how the CPPIB supports parents, or any person with family commitments. The conversation later shifted to understanding how the CPPIB actively promotes workplace discussion and values the opinion of all employees, irrespective of hierarchical rank.

Asked about the importance of hosting such an event, the CPPIB representatives explained that the decision was motivated by an organization-wide policy to increase the diversity and gender parity at the firm. This illustrates a noticeable trend not only in the professional finance environment, but also in all fields of business. Today, organizations, individuals, and institutions understand that smart talent management draws from the entire population. Fully integrating women in the workplace, and the marketplace, can yield significant returns. This phenomenon often referred to as the Gender Dividend.

Emily Ren, Vasilia Kratsios, and Debra Kelsall, all DWIB founding executives, cite this demand for female talent as one of their main motivations for starting the Desautels Women in Business network. Driven by the need expressed by various recruiters in the industry to identify promising female talent, they created an organization that would promote the recruitment of women, and reaching out in their own faculty. However, over the course of the last several months, the club has increased its scope to provide a platform for women to share, encourage, and explore their ideas and goals as well as the various opportunities and careers available to them.

“As a finance student, I have attended a variety of finance conferences and networking events. It’s no exaggeration to say that as a woman, I am almost always in the minority,” says Kelsall, an Honours Investment Management student. “While the corporate world has historically been very male-dominated, this is changing. A lot of firms are beginning to focus more on recruiting female talent. There are many top-notch female students in management at McGill and one of the goals of DWIB is to make these students aware of the exciting career opportunities that exist for them.”

Danielle Dagenais, Finance Advisor at the Soutar Career Services, also attended the event and was generous in her advice to the bright-eyed prospective financiers attending the event. Referring to her days working in various roles in finance, she applauded the improvements in the industry and the existence of events such as the Women in Finance discussion that provide students with relevant information, real exposure, and role models.

She also highlighted the crucial role men have to play in the gender parity initiative. For instance, she encouraged men not to shy away from mentoring younger women. Using the traditional example of golf course networking – which symptomizes the image of the finance industry as an old boys’ club, she encouraged men to increase their awareness and sensitivity around the fundamental issue of gender parity, and to foster an environment that would promote this agenda.