Karen Collins is the Chief Talent Officer for BMO Financial Group, the 8th largest bank (by assets) in North America — with 12 million customers, and over 43,000 employees. Joining the bank in 2005, she held progressively more senior leadership roles across the organization, and now has enterprise accountability for Talent Management; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Leadership & Succession Planning; Executive Development; and Organization Design & Effectiveness. Karen serves on the Perimeter Institute Board of Directors and as a member of the Boulevard Club’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She is a proud wife and mother, has two beloved Labrador retrievers, and enjoys travelling with her family and staying active.
My first job ever was… babysitting for kids in my neighbourhood.
I decided on a career in human resources because… I’m passionate about helping leaders achieve their potential and I love to unlock tough issues related to human and team dynamics and change.
I’m passionate about my current role because… I have had a chance to impact BMO’s culture, talent, focus on inclusion and people ecosystem during one of the most interesting periods in history!
My proudest accomplishment is… most recently, how BMO supported our people during the pandemic — we kept people safe and working and feeling personally cared for. Over my career my proudest accomplishment has been helping other leaders grow, thrive and achieve their goals.
My biggest setback was… working for a company where I realized the values of the organization did not align with my personal values.
I overcame it by… seeking a change to move to a new company (BMO!) that did align with my values and learning a lot from the experience — it was one of the most formative learning experiences in my career.
“As we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.”
My advice for aspiring HR professionals is… think of yourself as a business person first; while you may be focused on human capital most of the time, it’s really important to understand how the business works — focus on products, technology, systems, revenue as well as people.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… create work-life balance and take real breaks from work… I am getting better at this, I think!
The thing I love most about what I do is… working alongside my team, my colleagues and the bank’s leadership team.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… learning agility — being excited by new things, taking in feedback and learning from it, seeking out new perspectives and being resilient.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an introvert.
I stay inspired by… surrounding myself with mentors, leaders, colleagues and team members who inspire me on a regular basis.
The future excites me because… as we come through the pandemic into the next chapter there is so much new and bold thinking about the new ways of working.
“I always say I feel like I grew up at BMO,” Andrea Casciato, Head of Digital Investing, BMO InvestorLine, recounts. “I’ve been a customer since I can remember and used to get my mom to grab extra withdrawal slips whenever we did a withdrawal or deposit so I could play banker in our basement.”
Today, Andrea helms the team that helps clients reach their financial investment goals with online investing options. BMO InvestorLine is ranked in the top three in the Globe and Mail’s 2022 Digital Broker Ranking, and since March 2020, online investing has seen a significant growth.
“I joined the Customer Contact Centre as Head of Wealth, right as we were entering the pandemic — a time when we experienced a massive demand for digital investment services. This meant placing a huge focus on driving our Digital First agenda forward, to deliver speed and scale to drive progress for our customers and unlock the power of our people,” Andrea says. She worked with her managers to prioritize tasks and respond to business needs and pulled on many of the skills she learned over her career at BMO to connect with staff.
“I doubled my empathy to understand how my team was really doing. I’d tell them to forget about work and ask how they were and how their family was. I was concerned about everyone’s mental health because at the very beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty.”
Looking back, she says the way she and her team navigated the increase in business and personal stress is a testament to the way BMO trains its leaders and cultivates a culture of support and growth.
“It can seem super daunting when you make a major change or try something new. Be open and say, ‘I want to know more.’ It’s empowering and it’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today.”
Andrea’s time with BMO began in university when she took an internship at a branch as a stop-gap to “figuring out what she wanted to do.” She eventually took an interest in Human Resources, and did what she encourages every woman to do when they want to try something new: “I remained curious and asked questions like, ‘How do I get your job? What do I need to do?’ I literally asked for what I wanted. Then I had a roadmap of what I needed to demonstrate to get to where I wanted to go.”
The questions also showed leadership that she wanted to evolve her career within the organization. After having her son, she decided she wanted to move from HR into business leadership roles and realized that to do that, she needed an executive MBA — something BMO went on to sponsor.
“You never think you’re going to end up at one company, and I’ve ended up with 10 careers in one place. Why would I go anywhere else?” she says. “It can seem super daunting when you make a major change or try something new. Be open and say, ‘I want to know more.’ It’s empowering and it’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today.”
In a society that still operates with biases and glass ceilings, many women doubt themselves or question their potential. Andrea adds that this leads to too many women counting themselves out for roles or opportunities before someone has said they’re not a fit — “but they can’t let doubt or fear hold them back.” Her advice rings true for those who are hesitant to dip their toes into the world of investing, too.
“Now is the time to learn about managing your investments and plan ahead.”
“Taking charge of your finances can be an uncomfortable thing to do and discuss but, for women, at some point you will be managing your own money. If you’re not single now, you are likely going to be at some point in your life,” she says. “Fifty percent of you will get divorced or you will outlive your spouse. Now is the time to learn about managing your investments and plan ahead.”
Her advice? Take the first step and open an online investment account with an amount of money you’re comfortable experimenting with. Once you overcome the initial fear, companies like BMO have programs that can help teach you the ins and outs of investing. Depending on where you’re at in your investment journey, Andrea mentions that there are a number of valuable services available through BMO to help you manage your funds, including a suite of commission-free ETFs (exchange-traded funds) available through the BMO InvestorLine platform.
“InvestorLine Self-Directed is the perfect digital tool for those who want to invest in stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds on their own,” says Andrea. “If you’re not quite ready to jump right in, adviceDirect is a hybrid platform that provides digital advice for your trades, with the assistance of a human advisor, and SmartFolio is all about hands-off digital investing where BMO does all of the heavy lifting.”
Andrea takes advantage of these programs herself, specifically adviceDirect, saying she now loves learning more about her investments, but has help from an advisor because despite playing banker as a kid, she didn’t intend to go into finance.
In the end, she says it’s all about taking the first step. “While it’s the hardest thing to do, whether it’s in your career or banking, the payoff is always worth the initial legwork.”
Self-Direct and adviceDirect are products of BMO InvestorLine. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a member of BMO Financial Group. ®Registered trade-mark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of Montreal. Member – Canadian Investor Protection Fund and Member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a member of BMO Financial Group. ®Registered trade-mark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence. BMO InvestorLine Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of Montreal. Member – Canadian Investor Protection Fund and Member of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
An adviceDirect account is a non-discretionary, fee based account which offers investment recommendations. adviceDirect does not provide portfolio management by a portfolio manager. The client makes their own investment decisions and manages their own investment portfolio. adviceDirect does not offer discretionary, managed accounts.
BMO SmartFolio is a product of BMO Nesbitt Burns. A BMO SmartFolio account is a discretionary fee based account which offers Digital Portfolio Management service. BMO SmartFolio matches clients to a managed ETF portfolio that aligns to their investment objectives.
“BMO (M-design)”, “BMO” and “BMO (M-design) Wealth Management” are registered trademarks of Bank of Montreal, used under license. “Nesbitt Burns” and “SmartFolio” are trademarks of BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc. and BMO InvestorLine are wholly owned subsidiaries of Bank of Montreal.
Caroline Dabu is a strategic marketer, communicator, and Head of BMO Wealth Distribution and Advisory Services. After earning her journalism degree and working for various publications, Caroline transitioned out of journalism to work in Communications in the Financial Services sector. Since joining BMO Nesbitt Burns in 2000 as the Head of Marketing, Caroline has held various leadership roles in Marketing and Client Strategy, and established BMO’s Enterprise Wealth Planning team in 2012. Today, Caroline is responsible for guiding a team of people that provide wealth planning, estate, and advisory services for BMO wealth clients.
My first job was… an intern cub reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press. I think I got paid by each word I wrote!
I chose my career path because… I became fascinated by the impact financial decisions can make. After graduating from Journalism School at Carleton University, I worked at Financial Post Magazine and it was such a rush working at the magazine, and in particular, learning more about personal finance. After that experience, I wanted to be in a position to be able to communicate how meaningful of an impact financial decisions have in people’s lives. Taking a communications role at a bank was a pivotal moment that set me on my career path.
My boldest personal or professional move to date was… to move out of my comfort zone around Marketing and Communications. I moved out of a senior role in Marketing and Communications ten years ago for an opportunity to build up the retirement, financial, and wealth planning area of BMO.It was a risk because I didn’t go to business school, and my career to date had been focused on being a strategic Marketer and Communicator. This role was developing a strategy that not all our businesses bought into at the time, and its value was not well understood. It tested me as a leader in many ways and starting up in a new area required evolving and learning well outside of my comfort areas. This move has broadened my leadership and helped me tackle additional opportunities and challenges in my career.
The thing I love most about my role as Head, Wealth Distribution & Advisory Services is… working with an incredible team of professionals who are passionate about what they do and the direct impact they can have on helping individuals, families, and businesses achieve their goals and dreams for the future and be prepared for some of the challenges that may come along the way. Our team provides wealth, tax, estate, business advisory, philanthropy and insurance planning, and not a week goes by where I don’t hear about the meaningful difference they are making for BMO Wealth clients and their families.
Having a wealth management plan is important because… together with your advisor, it helps you identify and get specific around your wants, needs, and goals and helps you stay the course. A plan helps you prioritize what is truly important and gives you the confidence to stay focused even when there are things happening in the short term that can veer you off path. A wealth management plan also gives you the ability to thread all the different aspects of your financial picture together, rather than in disparate pieces.
“The best piece of advice I would give to someone who wants to use their wealth to make a positive impact is to think about how they want to give “meaning” to their wealth, what they are passionate about supporting, and then speaking to an advisor about how to do this strategically.”
One misconception about wealth management is… that it’s intimidating and that it’s not accessible.Wealth management is really about having a comprehensive view of your financial goals and managing how you will achieve them — whether you are a young family with goals to save for your kids’ education, a professional early in your career just starting to make some investments, or if you have a family business and want to plan for your business to be passed on to the next generation. If you’ve got a goal, you need wealth management — whether that means working with a financial planner or a Wealth Advisor.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… being open to feedback and being willing to evolve — this attitude opens up so many more pathways and doors. And embracing every opportunity to learn. (Ok, that’s 3 things!)
The first thing I would suggest to someone that wants to set financial goals is… categorize your needs, your wants and your wishes — and be specific about them. This will help you prioritize and set a realistic plan. Your needs are what you need to make sure is fully funded, full stop. Then, you can plan for your “wants or must-haves.” Your wishes are your “nice-to-haves” after you can fund the first two buckets.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… that I never saw being a hockey mom in my future!
The best piece of advice I would give to someone who wants to use their wealth to make a positive impact is… to think about how they want to give “meaning” to their wealth, what they are passionate about supporting, and then speaking to an advisor about how to do this strategically.
I stay inspired by… tackling at least one new personal challenge every year that takes me out of my comfort zone.
The future excites me because… technology in financial services is accelerating in such a way that we’ll see the convergence of the power of human advice with digital to make personal finance and wealth management even more engaging, easier, and collaborative.
Scotiabank Vice President reflects on intersecting experiences as leader, professional engineer and woman of colour.
By Shelley White
During these challenging times, many in the corporate world are asking: are we doing enough to make things better?
As Scotiabank’s Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability, Sandra Odendahl thinks about that question a lot. She is constantly evaluating how the bank is embedding good environmental and community practices into its business and operations.
“The biggest positive impact we can have on society is through our business: the people we employ; the way we provide products, services and advice to customers; and how we help the economy,” she says. “But our community investment activities also contribute to positive benefits to society, and our business thrives when communities thrive.”
Sandra and her team divide their work between four key pillars: donations to not-for-profits and charities, academic partnerships, corporate sustainability, and overall corporate responsibility strategy. The pillars are part of an overarching goal to make a positive impact on the communities where we work and live.
“If we’re providing grants or creating charitable partnerships, we’re evaluating them by asking: what is the social impact of this partnership? But we also consider, is there an opportunity for a positive alignment to our business? Is there an opportunity for employee engagement and employee involvement in that partnership?“ Sandra says.
The events of 2020 have made Sandra’s team more important than ever. For example, after the killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, widespread protests were spurred across the U.S. and Canada and the focus on anti-Black racism gained momentum at the bank, Sandra says. Employees across different areas of the business wanted to do more to address racism and discrimination.
“Some businesses were looking at renewed product or service offerings, while other areas of the bank were more interested in enabling our people by deepening learning to help them confront bias,” Sandra says. “There was so much great work going on, but it needed to have a shared direction, so I was tasked with leading the charge to pull it all together.”
Sandra was asked to lead the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) Inclusion Task Force at Scotiabank, a project that is nearing completion.
“At the beginning, we looked at the results of employee surveys and executive listening sessions with employees on the topic of racism, and then studied best practices across different companies in addressing diversity and inclusion to determine where the gaps were in how we are dealing with racism. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we best honour our commitment to anti-racism when it comes to our employees, customers and business partners? How can we demonstrate it within our community?’” she says.
Following the assessment and recommendations of the Task Force, Scotiabank’s Inclusion Council will determine an appropriate framework for the bank’s anti-racism actions, in order to “sustain thoughtful and strategic activity over time,” Sandra says. “We don’t want to lose momentum once it’s no longer front-page news. It’s something that we’re permanently building into the existing D&I framework.”
As the child of a West Indian mother and a German father, Sandra says that her life growing up in Ottawa was a “typical child of immigrant parents experience.” She was one of very few women in her chemical engineering classes at the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto, and as a result, she formed strong relationships with her small cohort of fellow women students, some of which have lasted for 30 years.
Sandra began her career performing environmental impact assessments for pulp mills, mines and hydroelectric projects in Indonesia and across Canada. She eventually found her way into the financial sector, where she was a resource sector analyst for one of Canada’s top five banks and then led one of the first environmental risk management teams on Bay Street. Her passion for environmental sustainability issues runs deep — she recently completed a five-year term as Chair of the Board for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and is a Board Member of the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.
But while her workplaces were mostly male-dominated, Sandra says she feels fortunate that she didn’t encounter many barriers as a woman working in science and engineering.
“I know that I am really fortunate to have had many positive experiences as a woman of colour, and I realize that’s not always the case for people who struggle or feel alienated because of their race or gender.”
Having said that, there were moments “where I wanted to roll my eyes when someone said or did something ignorant,” she says. She remembers working at a petrochemical plant where an older male colleague put up a magazine centrefold of a nude woman in their shared workspace. (She moved it so she wouldn’t have to look at it.) And then there was the time as a grad student when a visiting international professor rudely asked her: “What’s with the hair?”
“I don’t remember the exact words, but my hair was a little bit wild and unkempt — compared to someone with straight hair,” Sandra recalls. “I always wore my curly hair pretty much natural back then. So, I just laughed and said, ‘What’s with my hair? Well, it grows out of my head this way, just like your hair grows out the way it grows out.’ He didn’t pursue the conversation!”
Sandra thinks her pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude has served her well over the years in dealing with tone-deaf comments.
When confronted with an uncomfortable comment or action in the workplace, Sandra’s advice is to assume positive intent, but to also stand up for yourself, “as politely and concisely as possible,” she says.
“You can ask a question like, ‘I’m not sure what you mean by that — can you please elaborate?’ Sometimes you realize they didn’t mean anything by it. I think that’s really important.”
And when someone really does mean something by it? That’s when it’s time to speak up for yourself, speak out and raise your concern, Sandra says. “Sadly, there are ignorant people in the world, and you’ve just got to figure out how to go around them.”
One of most effective ways to make a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the Canadian workplace is to set a good example for the next generation, Sandra says. “As a successful woman engineer and professional, who is also a person of colour, I feel that it’s important to support and mentor young people.”
That’s why she volunteers with the University of Toronto’s engineering school and has also served as an advisor to Ryerson University’s Social Ventures Zone, where she mentored engineering students and advised student-founded startup companies.
Representation matters, Sandra says.
“It matters to see somebody who you can identify with doing something you may never have thought of doing,” she says. “I hope I am inspiring other women and people of colour to think, ‘Of course, there is a place for me in all this.’”
Within the first 100 days of becoming CEO of Mastermind Toys — Canada’s largest speciality toy and children’s book retailer, with 69 stores across the country and online — Sarah Jordan faced store closures, work-from-home protocols and other unprecedented ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was certainly an untraditional way of starting out as a CEO of a retailer,” says Sarah, who stepped into the role in January. “This is going to be an experience that will be a defining one for leadership, at least in my lifetime.”
While Sarah says her first priority was (and still is) the wellbeing of her employees and customers, she’s embraced the opportunity to lead the company through the transformation that she committed to deliver. She passionately believes that employee experience drives customer experience — and has empowered her team to keep Mastermind special, to be bold and scrappy and to come out of this stronger together.
Digital transformation is among Sarah’s top priorities. From increasing Mastermind Toys’ social media presence (hosting daily storytime readings and weekly virtual birthday parties), to improving digital capabilities and online shopping, to expanding upon the sense of wonder for shoppers online and in-store, Sarah is taking the Canadian retailer to the next level.
There’s no doubt Sarah is taking things in stride. “This experience has lent itself to my strengths, giving me the chance to rally the organization to get behind and believe in my vision for the future.” One of her strengths is building a diverse, powerhouse team. She has proudly reshaped the leadership team to include balanced gender representation.
In order to ensure success in the best of circumstances, but especially in trying times, Sarah says a clear vision and strategy with constant communication is critical. With Mastermind’s signature wrapping paper adorning her Zoom background, Sarah is hosting virtual coffee chats, company-wide town hall meetings, and more intimate conversations with employees, all with the intention of building momentum, celebrating successes, and managing with a clear focus. She is also passionate about bringing the philosophy of Mastermind Toys to life — Play Is Kids’ Work — and has been leaning on that founding principle in making decisions. “I’m reminded through this time that play plants a tiny seed of curiosity in a child’s mind that grows into knowledge that lasts a lifetime,” she says in one of her emails to Mastermind customers as they navigated closures, curbside pick-up, and reopenings.
“At Mastermind Toys, we know that play is a central and critical part of kids’ lives. We want to inspire imagination, wonder, education and development, and empower Canadian families to help their kids become lifelong learners,” she says. That mandate couldn’t be more timely given that, due to COVID-19, schools closed early this year and children have had to learn in new and different ways at home.
With her own two kids taking on the unofficial role of Mastermind toy testers, Sarah is able to bring work home in a way she couldn’t in previous roles. She’s also aware that as a 38-year-old mom, she’s in the minority among retail industry leaders — very few store chains in Canada are run by women. “I’m motivated and excited to show that leadership comes in a variety of forms.”
Sarah has always felt comfortable doing things her own way — she affectionately credits her parents for instilling that “can-do” attitude. In university, she studied engineering chemistry. Growing up she loved math and science. Upon graduation, she took a job in consulting with Accenture. At 24, she enrolled in the MBA program at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. “Yes, I was the youngest in my MBA class, but I never focused on that,” she recalls. “I really liked the business world and wanted to build that foundational skillset — to up my game.”
Through the MBA program, Sarah was able to successfully transition to a business management career. A key element was learning different leadership styles through the school’s team-based approach. “It gave me a chance to reflect upon what type of leader I wanted to be and to learn from others in a safe space.”
“Be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership. Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.”
Sarah’s academic journey came full circle when she started as a lecturer with the Smith MBA program last year. “I’m passionate about making sure more young women see leaders that they can see themselves in, both in educational and business settings.”
Even without having that advantage herself, Sarah stepped into the role of CEO at Mastermind with confidence — succeeding the company’s co-founder, Jon Levy, who’d been at the company’s helm since 1984. That self-assurance came in part from the years of experience she had tackling retail and banking transformation as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where she worked with Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, boards, and a host of stakeholders, driving change from the outside. She left BCG in 2017 to join Scotiabank with the desire to focus on transformation from the inside. “I transitioned from a consultant to an operator and leader with an agenda for innovation and value creation,” she recalls.
Ready for another career leap and excited to get back into the retail space, where her true passion lies, she joined Mastermind Toys. She credits what she calls her “personal board of directors” for helping her step up. “Mentorship and sponsorship from my personal board have provided the compass for my success,” she says.
When advising others on how to create their own personal boards, Sarah suggests recruiting people who will cheer you on, provide advice, give tough love when needed, hold you accountable and remind you to celebrate along your journey. Ideally, your board will have a variety of perspectives and will include managers, coaches, professors, sponsors, mentors and peers who have grown up alongside you in your career. Sarah’s board also happens to include her spouse, whom she met while doing her MBA.
When asked to share other tips for young leaders, Sarah says “be unapologetically authentic; don’t feel the need to adopt a classic or traditional style of leadership.” And play to your passions. “Leading through difficult times is certainly easier when you’re doing what you love.”
Looking ahead to the next few months, Sarah is optimistic that Mastermind will come out of the pandemic crisis stronger and ready to embrace “the next normal.”
“As a retailer that focuses on multi-generational customers — grandparents, expecting mothers, kids and kids at heart — we plan to lead the way in terms of providing innovative experiences that have wonder and delight around every corner while keeping health and safety paramount,” she says. “We have reimagined our experiences. Our customers can now choose their own adventure — in-store, online and curbside — and we will continue to provide new and flexible ways of shopping while managing the complexity that lies ahead.”
Caroline Drees is a passionate proponent of diversity and inclusion, and has spent much of her career working to support underrepresented groups, close gender gaps and promote equality in the workplace. The Global Editor, Editorial Learning and Culture, at the global news organization Reuters, her remit includes diversity and inclusion, training, talent and career development for Reuters’ more than 2,500 staff members. Caroline has enjoyed a truly global career, working as a reporter, editor, manager and executive across the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, in Europe and in the United States. Before moving to Washington in 2013, Caroline was Reuters’ managing editor and then general manager for the Middle East and Africa, including during the Arab Spring. A native speaker of English and German, Caroline also speaks Arabic and French.
My first job was… do babysitting and dog-sitting count? My first “real” paid job was a 1991 summer internship with French news service AFP’s Middle East headquarters in Cyprus, when I was sent to Lebanon to cover the release of Western hostages just a few months after its 15-year civil war ended. What an incredible introduction to international journalism!
My proudest accomplishment is…helping set up Iraq’s first independent news agency after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Working in a war zone with journalists who had never worked in a country with a free press — training them and their managers how to operate a truly independent news organization — was incredibly rewarding, and their dedication to pursuing the truth under the most adverse conditions was inspiring.
My boldest move to date was… starting to flirt long-distance with a colleague I really liked 10 years ago; we’ve been a couple for almost a decade now and live together in our Washington, DC home with our three dogs.
A defining moment in my career as a reporter was… meeting with the father of one of our journalists who had been killed doing his job. Our colleague had only been 22 when he died. His father gave me a photo of his son to make sure I’d never forget him. It’s stood on my desk ever since, and I think about him every day.
This moment reinforced my deep respect for the bravery of journalists doing the important work of reporting the truth and bringing greater transparency to our world. It also reminded me once again how fragile life is, and how important it is to live each day as fully as you can.
Speaking four languages has had an impact on my life… because it’s allowed me to see the world through a multicultural lens. It’s given me opportunities such as seeing from the frontlines in the Middle East how differently the Iraq war was seen in the region, compared to the United States. I’ve been able to interview Saudi businesswomen and stateless “Bedoons”, and everyone from far-right extremists in Austria to francophone peacekeepers in Africa. I think this multicultural lens has also helped me see my own country in a more nuanced way and allowed me to approach challenges and opportunities with eyes wide open.
The most fulfilling thing about the work I do is… working with people. It may sound cheesy, but I love the energy of working with people, feeding off each other, learning from each other. I love mentoring more junior colleagues and designing and implementing programs to support diverse talent. Call me crazy, but I also love running complex projects, juggling multiple things at once and bringing them to a productive, sustainable conclusion. Throw in time pressure and I’m happy as a clam. One of the most rewarding projects I worked on recently involved interviewing about 70 per cent of our staff – more than 1,700 people – face-to-face, all over the world, to find out what was making their work harder than it needed to be, then suggesting and implementing solutions.
“It’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.”
The most challenging thing about my work is… ensuring I handle crises and challenges coolly and calmly, keeping emotions in check, even when stress levels are enormous and lives are sometimes at risk.
I would tell my 21-year-old self … don’t sweat the small stuff, trust your gut and live your values. The rest will fall into place.
I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion because… simply put: businesses and society are better off with diversity. I have seen first-hand how the absence of D+I leads to alienation, disenfranchisement and inequality as well as a lack of innovation, creativity, productivity and business success. It’s also a really exciting field, with new research from economists, social scientists and others leading to a greater understanding of the ways we can embed D&I into business, with tools such as people analytics and behavioural design.
A world where we have achieved diversity and inclusion looks like this… it’s a world where everyone feels equally welcomed, involved, appreciated and productive; a world where diversity is woven into the fabric of each business, not tacked on like an afterthought; it’s a world where different people, voices, ideas and views are empowered, shared, heard, discussed and incorporated into what we do. Where businesses tap into the entire talent pool at all levels as a matter of course, and as a result, economies and societies thrive.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… that it’s normal to question whether you’re up to the task in the workplace sometimes, especially when you’re planning your next move. But the key thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and the only way you’ll know how far you can go is by stretching yourself.
My biggest setback was… I’ve been astonishingly fortunate to experience very few major setbacks. There were disappointments, sure. But nothing I felt was a major roadblock, derailer or fateful development that altered my life. Disappointments included many jobs I applied for and didn’t get over the years. But in each case, something else came along that I actually loved more!
I overcame it by…not dwelling on it. By trying to get my mind off things that got me down. Singing lessons turned out to be an amazing way to get into a good mood.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… the support of family and friends.
The future excites me because… I am at a stage in my life where I feel there are so many opportunities, and there are so many new fields of work opening up. The world is becoming more inclusive despite continued setbacks, and I have the chance to work with dynamic, energetic, new generations that expect diversity and inclusion to be part and parcel of life and work. We have our work cut out for us. And that’s great!
The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.
By Shemina Jiwani
Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.
Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men. So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?
Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.
Eliminating Unconscious Bias
I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.
Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood. For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard. It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.
The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.
Find a Work-Life Balance
It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”
Here are some good places to start:
Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.
Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.
Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.
Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.
You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.
Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani
Over the last few decades, we’ve made progress towards gender equality in the workplace, and shifted our focus from ‘why’ we should be doing it to ‘how’ it can be done. The path that will most likely lead to success? One that includes men — as leaders, champions, and allies. Here’s why and how we’ll do it.
By Stephania Varalli
In 1977, John T. Malloy published a bestselling guide called The Woman’s Dress For Success Book.
His advice amounted to a feminized version of male office attire — hair above the shoulder, a “man-tailored” blouse, a scarf, a skirt-suit — creating a uniform for women that downplayed their gender in a non-threatening way. We’re like you, but we’re not trying to be you, it said.
The book opened with a disclaimer that it was not at all sexist, just reflective of the reality of the time. “If women control a substantial hunk of the power structure in ten or fifteen years,” Malloy stated, “I will write a book advising men how to dress in a female-dominated environment.”
At least he was optimistic about the speed at which women would be advancing. In reality, it took longer than 10 or 15 years to just shift our focus away from “fixing women” to creating workplaces that work for everyone. But today, we are on that path.
In the past few years, we’ve stopped arguing about whether there’s a business case for diversity, and have started talking about gender equality as a business imperative — delivering better problem solving, increased collaboration, greater innovation, better governance and compliance, and overall higher financial performance. Corporations, SMEs, government, investors, and individuals are stepping up to the challenge of reaching economic gender parity. And there are more organizations that are calling for and supporting change, from broad efforts to focused initiatives.
“The question is not about ‘if’ or ‘why’ gender balance is important; it’s so much more about how we make it real,” says Louisa Greco, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company. Passionate about gender balance and sponsorship, she’s also on the Advisory Committee for the 30% Club Canada, a campaign with the aspirational goal of 30% of board seats and C-Suite positions to be held by women by 2022.
The 30% Club wants to avoid the need for quotas. Instead, they are building a strong foundation of business leaders who are committed to meaningful, sustainable gender balance. If you scroll through their directory of members, some might be surprised to find more men than women. But in this case, it’s a good sign — and necessary for success.
“Men lead 95% of the world’s organizations and therefore have the power to make change,” explains Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director of Catalyst Canada. “Not change for change’s sake, but meaningful change that will expand their talent pools, their levels of productivity and innovation, and their contribution to just and fair societies.”
And, Tanya says, if you look at gender inequality not as a women’s issue, but as society’s issue, “all of society must take part in making progress.” So the question becomes: How do we encourage more men to get involved?
“Men lead 95% of the world’s organizations and therefore have the power to make change.”
“It does help to frame the issue in a way that promotes the understanding that equality and inclusion are not just ‘women’s issues,’ they are ‘people issues’ and ‘business issues,’” suggests Rahul Bhardwaj, CEO and President of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD). “If we start from there, the quality of engagement will be much better.”
The ICD mandate is to actively promote the idea that strong boards make strong organizations, and ultimately a better country. Supporting the 30% Club Canada is a logical partnership for the organization, says Rahul, because of the impact diversity can have on board performance, and specifically, innovation.
“Canada’s prosperity depends in large part on innovation, and innovation requires new ways of thinking — diverse thinking.” says Rahul. “If your directors aren’t focused on innovation and helping you to think in new ways, your company will be left behind.”
Diversity as an enabler of innovation makes a strong business case, but it’s not the only thing that drives Rahul’s support of gender equality. “On a personal level, a strong woman raised me. My mother played a significant role in the community and did so with a lot of grace and courage despite some of the challenges of that time,” explains Rahul. “I’m also a husband and a father of a daughter and I’d like to know that all opportunities for professional growth are available to them, regardless of gender.”
These aren’t uncommon outcomes. According to research, having a working mom that acts as a strong female role model changes a man’s perception of gender roles, and having a daughter tends to push men towards more progressive views on gender.
For Spencer Lanthier, it is a matter a fairness. He’s the Former Chairman and CEO of KPMG, as well as the Founding Chair of the 30% Club Canada — although his views might peg that percentage goal even higher. “Women make up half the population,” he says, “so it’s only right that they would make up half the C-Suite roles and board seats.”
He came on board in 2015 after being approached by the team of Brenda Trenowden, the organization’s Global Chair. Spencer saw the 30% Club campaign “as a way to heighten awareness of the issue as well as to bring about change in a measurable manner, allowing organizations to do the right thing and experience the benefits that come with gender balanced leadership.”
“It’s a simple matter of math — to make gender diversity a core value and drive meaningful, lasting change, men need to be part of the solution.”
Whatever their motivations, leaders and organizations are starting to do the right thing. Looking at TSX-listed companies in Canada, Osler’s 2018 Diversity Disclosure Practices report found that women held 16.4 per cent of board seats in 2018, up from 14.5 per cent the year prior. The stats are even more encouraging for S&P/TSX 60 companies: women held 28.4 per cent of board seats in 2018, as compared to 26 per cent the year prior. These numbers represent progress — but they also show that we still have work to do. Board directors tend to blame a lack of qualified female candidates, but this is an excuse that’s easily proven wrong.
“Women have earned upwards of 60% of university degrees in Canada for the last 30 years,” says Tanya. “These women are well educated, ambitious and engaged, yet they continue to be underutilized and undervalued in the workplace, to the detriment of our economy and society. Women have all of the capabilities and smarts to be successful, alongside men, but our workplaces and our societal expectations are lagging their ambitions.”
In 2017, leading not-for-profit organizations focused on research, advocacy and education in the areas of governance and gender diversity joined together to form the Canadian Gender and Good Governance Alliance. The aim of the Alliance was to coordinate and amplify their impact in their efforts to achieve gender parity on boards, in executive positions, and throughout Canadian organizations. They have launched curated best practice tools for boards in the Directors’ Playbook and for organizations in the CEO Blueprint. These serve as guides for today’s leaders to become champions of change — leaders who are mostly men.
Yes, some of these men have far to go before they’ll be convinced to tackle gender equality. But many men are already stepping up as allies and champions, and even as husbands, partners, and fathers, redefining the role of men and creating a more equal playing field for women.
“For sustainable progress, to make gender diversity a core value and drive meaningful, lasting change, men need to be part of the solution,” says Louisa. “And I firmly believe that, together, we’ll all benefit. If we ensure women are successful, men will be more successful, too, and broader business performancewill reflect the positive benefits of this.”
This article is just the beginning. Over the next year, the 30% Club Canada and Women of Influence are partnering to explore the role of men, amplifying our efforts by joining together. We’ll be sharing the stories of allies — men who are pushing for gender equality in the workplace, or making it happen in their own business. These Champions of Change can act as visible role models, inspiring and guiding other men to follow in their footsteps. If we’re going to level the playing field, we need men to be engaged.
With its facilities still located in the Northern French village where the brand was born, cosmetics company Yves Rocher is deeply committed to staying true to its roots — still sourcing high-quality botanicals, employing locals, and remaining accessible to the average woman. This authenticity is what originally attracted Nathalia Del Moral Fleury to the company. Now, less than three years after joining, she is their first female General Director for North America, based out of Montreal — and the youngest person to ever hold that title.
Within three years at Yves Rocher, you’ve gone from Zone Marketing Director, North America to the General Director of North America. To what do you attribute this success and escalation?
Two things. First, passion. If you love your job, if you’re passionate about it, you’re going to enjoy doing it and you’ll do it well and it will show. People will see that you’re achieving things and moving forward. I love my job. Second, having a mentor. My boss was the General Manager before me, and I worked with him very closely. Three years ago, I would look at him and think: “I would never do this job.” It’s hard, and it’s very lonely at the top. Then, when he proposed the job to me, I was hesitant, but it ultimately didn’t seem that scary anymore. I was close to him, I saw how he worked and thought alongside him. He helped me gain the self confidence you need to have to say “yes I’m going to do it, I trust myself, and it’s okay.” If you fail, whatever! You also have to trust people — if they’re giving you this job, it’s because they saw something in you.
We talk a lot about the power of mentors, as well as the power of sponsorship. The difference being that a sponsor not only coaches you, they prepare you for the role and advocate for you when you’re not in the room. How do you feel that your mentor did that for you?
First, developing my self-confidence. He took on the role of coach rather than just boss, by asking the questions so that I had to think and come to the answer by myself. Giving me the positive reinforcement I needed so I understood I was doing well. Giving me the space to be myself. It’s really the type of leadership I’m trying to emulate. It’s not about me — I’m the boss, but it’s never about me. It’s about the team. You’re supposed to be there for the people, for the brand, for the company. If they’re doing well, you’re doing well. It’s like giving that platform for your team to present, to learn and to grow. He did that for me very well. He challenged me. He trusted me. He gave me space. When you know you’re good at your job, you can give space to other people. It requires a lot of generosity, caring for others, and being humble, but also a visionary, for the company and for the people. Knowing what that person you’re coaching can do, and helping them see it.
“You also have to trust people — if they’re giving you this job, it’s because they saw something in you.”
How do you intend to develop that same relationship with your team?
I have a team of seven people. When I took the job, I left a small hole behind me, so I promoted people, and that was really nice to give them the chance to grow and to be with them along that growth path. I myself have a coach right now, because in taking this new position I want to be sure I ask myself the right questions, and I take the time to step back. So I asked him, “How can I be not the boss that tells them what to do, but how can I leave the room being confident that they’re going to make the good decision?” I make sure I’m the one who speaks last, not first. I lead with questions. Instead of telling them what to do, I ask them, “Do you have everything you need to make that decision?” I try to coach more than be the boss. Feeling how they’re feeling, observing, being present. People often don’t say how they feel — yesterday, one of my team members looked really tired. So I asked what’s happening. She told me she wasn’t tired, she was mad. So we had a discussion, but only because I opened the door. If I didn’t care or hadn’t seen the difference in her mood, I wouldn’t have been able to see what was the problem and address it.
You have an all female management team in North America. Was that the result of intentional effort, or did it just happen?
My previous boss and I tried to avoid the filters of society that make us look at women differently than men. I have people on my team who are really shy, who don’t speak up for themselves. If you are observant, and see their strengths, you see they have the potential. It’s been a few years of promoting people that are doing their job really well, but aren’t necessarily speaking for themselves. So, while it was not planned, if you’re careful, and you really look at people and their strengths and filter out the female vs. male biases, you’ll have more women naturally moving up.
Born in St. Kitts, Dauna Jones-Simmonds migrated to Canada almost forty years ago and has first-hand experience navigating the roadblocks and challenges encountered by new Canadians — particularly those of colour. Today, as the President of DEJS (Diversity) Consulting, she shares her accumulated knowledge through consulting and diversity training activities, and providing mentorship and assistance for young Black women looking to advance their careers. She is currently the Chair of the Board of Directors for ACCES Employment, a past Board Member at SKETCH, and has been the only Black female member in the Rotary Club of Toronto.
Get to know how her personal and professional journey led to her becoming one of three co-authors of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, and a Women of Influence Luncheon panelist.
My first job ever was… a bank teller at the Royal Bank of Canada.
I chose my career path because… One was by sheer accident – Human Resources was bestowed upon me when the Labour Relations Manager walked away from negotiations and the company I was with at the time, asked me to ‘pitch’ in. As a person who never seems to know how to say ‘no’, I quickly and willingly said ‘yes’ I will help. The other career that I am now pursuing at this later stage of my life is authoring books. This came about as a result of innocent and curious conversations. With tenacity, I pursued what is now our passion – co-authoring.
My proudest accomplishment is…co-authoring my first book, 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women – it was a dream I always had and to see it come to fruition. This of course is secondary to marrying my husband and building a beautiful family.
My boldest move to date was…working in Utah while trying to raise two young kids. It was difficult but I felt that this opportunity would help me build my career and could have led to greater and better things.
I surprise people when I tell them…I am the thirteenth of 14 children.
My best advice to people starting their career is… grab whatever opportunities come your way. Be a sponge and learn as much as you can.
My best advice from a mentor was… your best weapon is getting a good education and building your network. Hold on to your strong values and principles of integrity and honesty.
I would tell my 20-year old self… keep exercising and keep learning.
My biggest setback was… having to start my career all over again when arrived in Canada. However, this was a learning experience which made me realize that nothing comes easy and that I would have to fight for what I want if I wanted to progress in life.
I overcame it by… building my knowledge about my adopted country, gaining a better understanding of the people with whom I surrounded myself and using this accumulated knowledge to my advantage.
Work/life balance is… what one wants it to be – if you enjoy life, working hard may be one’s way of balancing work and personal life. It’s what makes one happy.
The last book I read was… The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
I stay inspired by… my beautiful granddaughter – I dream about her future and the difference she can make to the world.
The future excites me because… I believe our younger generation is focused and determined. On a personal level, I will be travelling a lot more.
My next step is… to focus on strengthening my family values and writing the third edition of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women – 2020.
A creative producer with over 15 years of global experience in broadcast, events, content and Games, Laura Denham is a creator who brings big ideas to life. She has cultivated a deep passion for content production and amplification on both the broadcast and agency side. Laura is an integrated marketer who connects brands with culture. From ideation to execution, Laura consistently delivers meaningful experiences and content for brands. As the Chief Creative Officer of Notable Life, Laura sees a unique opportunity to bring high-profile production and creative expertise to the young and engaged Notable Community.
Myfirst job ever was… working as a sales associate in a shoe shop in Dublin, Ireland. I was 16-years-old and living with family for the summer.
I chose my career path because… my career chose me. I’ve been creating and producing ever since I was little and no matter how much I tried to cultivate another path, life brought me back to my creative place. I had a very artistic upbringing — recording studio in the house, dance lessons, arts school, etc. So, from an early age I really cultivated my passion for creating. By the time I was ready for university, I thought it was time to focus and pursue what many called a “proper career.” I went to business school, but somehow ended up writing a musical on the side. Then I moved to the UK to work in finance, only to be offered the role of Producer for WE Day back in Canada. Every time I diverted from my passions, life showed me a way back to my creative and production roots. I finally decided to stop fighting it and accept that this was my “proper career” and have been passionately creating for TV, marketing agencies, and content platforms ever since.
My proudest accomplishment is… working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I was truly honoured to work for LOCOG as one of the Victory Ceremonies Producers, producing medal ceremonies. Working on an Olympics and Paralympics was always at the top of my bucket list — there is no event bigger in the world, so I knew I had to be part of this in someway. I achieved my goal before the age of 30, so I was pretty proud of myself, but more importantly I’m proud to have contributed to these defining moments in an athlete’s life and career — the moment they get that medal. It was life-changing and humbling to produce those moments for such deserving and inspiring athletes.
My boldest move to date was… moving to England right out of university without having ever been there before. Not to mention, I didn’t have a job lined-up. My best friend and I decided to have an adventure and that is definitely what it was. This is the experience that taught me to say “yes” to taking risks because they almost always payoff.
I surprise people when I tell them… that I am obsessed with 80s music and it’s the era of music I almost always listen to.
My best advice to people starting their career is… start thinking of the people you know now as part of your professional crew and help each other out. When starting out, it can get very “me” focused. My skills. My resume. My professional development. It isn’t until a little bit later you realize the power of your community. So, I tell people to start thinking that way from the beginning. Collaborate. Help each other out. Network and prioritize your relationships. Your friends from school will be your colleagues, clients, partners and bosses as you all evolving in your careers. That’s definitely been my experience. Life isn’t a one person show — everyone can get further ahead by investing in these relationships and growing together from the beginning.
My best advice from a mentor was… know your worth. Know what you bring to the “party” and how unique that may or may not be. Benchmark yourself against your peers. Once you have a clear perspective on this and you’ve been super real with yourself, you’ll have a great sense of your worth. That said, there’s a time to learn and a time to earn. On one hand, negotiate proudly with your worth in mind and what you deserve, but also be mindful of where you can improve and the market rate for that job. Keep in mind that your potential isn’t always part of the compensation conversation. Invest in yourself by working hard and prove your value. And once you’ve done that — ask for that value in return. This is the way to build a mutually beneficial relationship with any employer or client. Work hard and showcase your worth — that way, no one will never doubt it.
“Collaborate. Help each other out. Network and prioritize your relationships. Your friends from school will be your colleagues, clients, partners and bosses as you all evolving in your careers.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… to definitely work hard in school, but not to forget to work hard in your relationships too. Like I mentioned before, creating meaningful relationships and connections in all parts of your life are important and ultimately benefit your career in so many ways.
My biggest setback was… putting myself through school and struggling with student debt, as so many people do.
I overcame it by… moving to England and taking advantage of the foreign exchange rate between the Canadian Dollar and the British Pound. This helped me save and pay off my debt twice as fast!
The last book I read was… What to Do When it’s Your Turn (and it’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada when I was very little. I became a Canadian citizen at the age of 8 and got “sworn in” by a judge. I still remember the day and all the other people who were there becoming citizens as well. It was a really proud moment and made the flag mean a lot to me at a young age. Did I mention I was also an Irish dancer?
I stay inspired by… forging strong relationships with the people I work with. One of my favourite ways to bring a team together is by taking on a creative project together and delivering it. Nothing bonds a team more than producing work, like a show, an experience, or a piece of content. You have to be all in and when you go through a journey like that with a team, you figure out super quickly how to support one another, how to work together and how to go after excellence as one unit.
The future excites me because… with Notable Life, I know that I am going to be a part of so many big, amazing things. I’m excited to push our creative offering through collaboration with creative communities, creators and brands. I’ve been empowered to make an impact, contribute to a powerful voice, and create for a platform with a team that shares the same goals as me. I’m also so thrilled to continue to shine a light on the Notable Life community of creators, entrepreneurs and young professionals.
My next step is… to launch a digital content series called #CareerGoals that shines a light on young professionals in the Notable Life community and the amazing things they’re doing. The definition of a career has expanded dramatically when you consider creators, influencers, and side-hustlers. The Notable Life community has such interesting and diverse career stories and we want to share these stories in a big way.
An advocate of inclusive prosperity through investing in people and ensuring everyone is able to realize their potential, Zabeen Hirji is a strategic advisor on the Future of Work, Leadership, Talent Management, and Diversity & Inclusion. With a ten year tenure as RBC’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Zabeen covered 80,000 employees in 40 countries. Today, she is Global Advisor, Future of Work, at Deloitte, advising the firm and its clients on the changing nature of work, an issue key to the transformation agendas of business and government. Zabeen is also an advisor to governments and academia, on diversity, inclusion, and preparing youth for the new world of work. She is Chair of CivicAction, co-chairs the External Advisory Board for diversity and inclusion for the Ontario Public Service, is on University of Toronto’s Governing Council, and is a Visiting Professor, Policy Institute, King’s College, London, UK.
My first job ever was… A part-time job at McDonald’s when I was 16. I developed some foundational skills like teamwork, communication, customer service and flexibility, which helped me get my first full-time job at RBC. And as this was shortly after my family immigrated to Canada, it helped me build a sense of belonging, and integrate into society.
I chose my career path because… It was where my passion met impact. When I first joined RBC, I didn’t intend to stay my entire career. One reason I stayed was because it is a great place to learn. After moving into Human Resources in 1997, I discovered my sweet spot. RBC’s success depended on its people, but what made it deeply meaningful was the impact I could have on fellow RBCers — inspiring people to set high ambitions and enabling them to realize their potential.
My proudest accomplishment is… My son and daughter. They are curious, independent thinkers, and socially conscious, and have the courage to pursue their passion with a commitment to excellence. But let me be clear: just like their mum, they aren’t perfect!
My boldest move to date was… Over 25 years ago, moving to Toronto from Vancouver — a city I loved and was very comfortable in — for more long-term career opportunities at RBC. I should point out though, I’m not big on “ests.” That move was a big life change, many more followed, both big and small, and shaped my path.
“Learning is the new currency in the future of work.”
My best advice to people starting their career is… Build a portfolio of skills and experiences. And remember, this doesn’t just happen through changing jobs. We can grow in our roles, for example by taking on new responsibilities or getting involved in projects in other areas. Go outside your comfort zone, not just once in a while, but every day and become known as someone who can learn quickly. Learning is the new currency in the future of work.
My best advice from a mentor was… Worry not about the level or title of the next job; instead, ask: what will l learn? That encouraged me to not only take on lateral roles, but even roles at a lower level for new experiences.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Judge your success by your own standards. Resist the temptation to get fixated on a singular definition of career success. Also, be active in the community; I’ve learnt that you get more than you give.
And advice to my 30–something, mother of two self… Be disciplined about making time for self-care and wellness. Whether it’s exercise, sleep, friendships, or simply reading a book — we all need “me time.”
“Resist the temptation to get fixated on a singular definition of career success.”
Work/life balance is… I think of it as work/life integration. For me it has changed over different stages of life. It even meant hitting pause on a career opportunity. For example, I declined the first executive role that RBC offered me in 1996. I had just returned from maternity leave, my children were both under the age of 3, and I hadn’t figured out how to be the kind of Mum I wanted to be and take on a more demanding role. I was prepared to take the career risk that went with this decision, but to be honest, it wasn’t that hard, because it was the right decision for me at that point in time.
I stay inspired by… My mum and the example she set. Shortly after my dad passed away, she brought her two teenagers to Canada from Tanzania, then devoted her life to raising us, giving us strong roots, but also wings to grow as individuals. She brought to life something my dad instilled in me – “do not constrain your ambitions just because you are female.” Mum is courageous, independent, curious and resilient.
The future excites me because… I was fortunate to have had a rewarding and meaningful career at RBC, sprinkled with opportunities to make a difference in our communities. I’m now building a portfolio career of roles across all sectors — business, government, academia and not-for-profit. I’m motivated by work that drives both economic and social impact, with a focus on investing in the development of people and building inclusive organizations and communities. I’m excited to be able to spend more time helping to building a stronger Toronto and a stronger Canada, one where everyone has the opportunities to realize their potential — a win/win that drives inclusive prosperity. My ambition is to have impact at a greater scale. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride, but it is fun. I am definitely taking my own advice to push myself outside my comfort zone, every day!
“Skills of the future” is a topic that is starting to dominate talent discussions today. Technology is rapidly shifting the landscape in all industries, and as a result, continuously changing the skill sets that are in high demand. The question professionals today need to ask themselves is: how do I ensure that I am developing skill sets which have longevity in the workplace? And employers need to consider: how do we attract and retain a talent pool with those skills of the future?
A recent Toronto Financial Services Alliance study done in partnership with PwC looked at how roles and skills will change in the financial services industry across key functional areas, including customer service and sales, product development, technology, operations and controls. In the context of automation, big data, and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain, the study sought to identify the skills people working in the
industry will require to harness the value of these technologies.
The study identified four key skills of the future:
1. Human Experience Skills
Emotional intelligence, empathy, communications, and influencing skills will be critical to allow individuals to meet increasingly high expectations of customers and employees when it comes to the value they demand in their interactions with organizations.
2. Re-imagination Skills
Curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and business acumen will help individuals reimagine the future and develop new solutions to meaningful business problems that have commercial value.
3. Pivoting Skills
The willingness to change, the capacity to learn and adopt new skills quickly, and the ability to lead people through change and build resilience will help people adapt in an environment of volatility and uncertainty.
4. Future Currency Skills
Developing and staying current on key technical skills will be a baseline requirement for people as the digital and information age continues to evolve. Holding key technical skills will be critical for employees; however, those in-demand skills will evolve and shift, so employees and employers will need to proactively build new pools of expertise.
To support this more agile, innovative and skilled workforce, talent management will need to take on a more integral role in the strategic planning process and in the performance evaluations of leaders and managers at all levels in the organization. A greater focus on anticipating the new skill sets that will be required and on developing strategies to attract and retain that talent will be key competitive drivers for organizations. Hiring for core skills which can adapt to new job descriptions and adopt new competencies will provide a stronger talent pool with lower friction costs. Retraining and regular education will need to be a principal element in any successful talent strategy.
Undoubtedly, all this will mean managers and leaders will spend considerably more time managing and developing talent. As the investment in the talent pool increases, attracting and retaining that talent will be increasingly important to organizations.
“Academia and the private sector will need to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are equipping students with skills that are relevant and in-demand.”
To facilitate the evolution and development of the skill sets required for the future, academia and the private sector will need to work together to ensure Canadian post-secondary institutions are equipping students with skills that are relevant and in-demand. A critical role that the private sector can play will be to create more work-integrated learning experiences for students. These practical work experiences will allow students to graduate with more sophisticated and well-rounded skill sets and enable them to transition into careers more effectively. The financial services industry is increasingly recognizing the value of these programs for students and is creating a growing number of co-op and internship opportunities, both through independent programs and as part of collective initiatives like ASPIRE, a TFSA-led sector-wide work-integrated learning program. Reaching students earlier ensures organizations can help equip the future workforce with the skills our economy requires, not to mention it allows those organizations to define the value proposition its organization can provide to new graduates.
Organizations will need to prioritize bench strengths like people development and coaching skills much more highly than in the past. Rapid change and continuous re-skilling will challenge both employees and managers, but if successfully navigated, can be a defining element of success. Today, more than ever, strong talent management will be a key competitive advantage for senior executives and their organizations.
Jennifer Reynolds is the President & CEO at Toronto Financial Services Alliance. Her 20 year career in the financial services industry has included senior roles in investment banking, venture capital, and global risk management. Prior to joining TFSA, Jennifer was the President & CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), Canada’s largest industry association and advocacy group for women in the financial sector.
Leslie Woo is Chief Planning Officer at Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. In 2015 she was named the Outstanding Leader by Canada’s Women’s Infrastructure Network for her work leading the strategic planning for Metrolinx. A key partner with the Chief Capital Officer in the delivery of the $35 billion capital rapid transit expansion underway, she establishes the pipeline of future projects and project scope and business case. Prior to joining Metrolinx Leslie worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Among her many global professional accomplishments, Leslie is a 2011/12 Fellow and member of the International Women’s Forum, a Global Trustee with the Urban Land Institute, and a retired member of the Ontario Association of Architects. Leslie holds many community volunteer roles including Board Director with the Women’s College Hospital and YMCA for the Greater Toronto Area.
My first job ever was… Selling perfume on the department store floor at Christmas.
I chose my career path because… I have always wanted to have an impact and make the lives of others better, starting with architecture.
My proudest accomplishment is… Seeing my kids succeed as independent adults and still come to ask me for advice.
My boldest move to date was…The first time I successfully made the case for why I should be paid more.
I surprise people when I tell them…Tequila is my drink of choice.
My best advice to people starting their career is… That hard work is a given – don’t expect that it is something that distinguishes you.
I would tell my 20-year old self… It’s not all about you.
My biggest setback was… Thinking I could do it all.
I overcame it by… Changing my view that my role was not just to elevate my career but to bring others along with me by coaching, nurturing and developing a legacy.
Work/life balance is… A myth – we are always making choices.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I am a big fan of Eminem and Pink.
I stay inspired by… Learning about others, whether in books, in person or in the movies.
The future excites me because…The next generations are smarter and they are impassioned by a vision for a better world.
My next step is… To amplify my impact through leadership and continually improving myself.
As Husky’s Senior Vice President of Human and Corporate Resources, Nancy Foster is an experienced human resources practitioner with extensive oil and gas experience, both domestically and internationally. She is a graduate of the Harvard Advanced Management Program, and has served on numerous committees and is dedicated to giving back to her community of Calgary, such as the YWCA of Calgary. Yet despite her current success, Nancy’s journey hasn’t always been upward and linear. Find out more below.
My first job ever was… As a cook in a diner — I was 15. My first professional job was working at Home Oil. I worked in special projects accounting and my role was to gather all the necessary information/documentation to submit claims for both the provincial and Federal Petroleum Incentive Program which was brought in as part of the National Energy Program in late 1980.
I chose my career path because… I knew it would offer me exciting opportunities to learn and grow in my career. Most of my roles have required me to influence vs. dictate, which has led me to being able to influence culture to be more diverse and inclusive.
My proudest accomplishment is… That’s easy — my four kids and now grandkids too.
My boldest move to date was… Moving to Norway to take over as Country Manager. I had never been there and didn’t speak the language. My husband took a leave of absence from his busy career so that I could accept the opportunity.
I surprise people when I tell them… By the time I was 28, I had four children and a growing career.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Put your hand up. Although there has been no formula to my career, there has been one constant: a willingness to put myself forward for work.
My best advice from a mentor was… To accept that while I could have it all — a family and a great career as a leader where I continued to learn and grow — I couldn’t necessarily have it all at once.
My biggest setback was… Beyond the numerous downturns that I have worked through, personally, shutting down the Norway office.
I overcame it by… I always tell people that it’s so important — no matter what your job is — to surround yourself with people who give you authentic feedback and a boost of confidence. Many of our traditional support systems — such as extended family members — are less available to provide support because of their own busy schedules. So we need to continue to build our community of mentors to embrace and empower us. And it’s important to remember that you don’t have to hang your hat on just one mentor. I like to think of mentoring in moments.
Work/life balance is… About choices. I think you have to value quality over quantity. You have to embrace the imbalance because the work/life equilibrium will never be a 50/50 endeavor. Kids get sick on work days. Work projects blow up during hockey playoffs. Life happens and you need to forgive yourself and do what you can.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have two dogs — big ones who are a great source of enjoyment to me and my husband.
I stay inspired by… Continuing to learn. Asking questions, reading — by staying involved in a not for profit which helps keep me connected to the larger Community.
The future excites me because I see so many opportunities for Husky, our city, our province and our country.
My next step is… To keep learning — through my work at Husky, through my volunteering and eventually through Board work at a for profit company.
An experienced international business leader with 20 years human resources and talent management experience, Krista Pell is recognized for her strategic, exuberant and hands-on approach to people and performance. Throughout her career, she has proven her drive to develop and implement people management and organizational development strategies and solutions that create systemic change, enhancing the engagement and effectiveness of all employees. But did you know this impressive executive was once a star on the rugby field? Learn more about Krista below.
My first job ever was… I had a newspaper route for the Guelph Mercury. After that I worked at the mall food court for a small ice cream and snack shop called Fast Eddie’s.
I chose my career path because… I always loved the combination of coaching others and consulting leaders on how to improve their business outcomes. This evolved perfectly in to a career focused on People and Performance.
My proudest accomplishment is… My daughter. She is 9 years old and is thoughtful, kind, well-traveled and understands diversity in our world.
My boldest move to date was… Leaving my successful role and moving across the world, which I actually did twice! Once from Canada to the Cayman Islands and then 7 years later I decided to leave that role and move back to Canada.
I surprise people when I tell them… I compete at a world level in CrossFit and that I have competed on the world stage in rugby and cheerleading. Quite a unique blend!
My best advice to people starting their career is… Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to participate in discussions that scare you a little bit. This is where all the learning happens.
My best advice from a mentor was… Be myself and use all the experiences I have had in life, that is when I will be most successful.
My biggest setback was… I think I have been fortunate in that I don’t look at any one thing as a big setback. There have been lessons learned but for the most part I feel that I have been on a forward trajectory.
I overcame it by… Anytime I have felt like I was being stagnant in my role or development I looked at how I could challenge myself to do something to change it!
Work/life balance is… Critical to happiness. It looks different for everyone and changes for me on a weekly basis, but I value my personal life as a priority and that is what makes me more successful in business.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I actually don’t know! Probably that I led the Cayman Islands Women’s Rugby team to a NACRA (North America Caribbean Rugby Championships) in 2010, I don’t think that is on the internet.
I stay inspired by… The fact that there is still so much learning and improvement I can do in everything I am involved in. It keeps me hungry!
The future excites me because… I feel that I am very comfortable in my understanding of how I can positively impact others and make a difference in my career and personal endeavours. When you have a very clear understanding of who you are you also have clarity in how to maximize your accomplishments!
My next step is… I hope as exciting as the past 20 years of my career has been. I sense some changes in the future!
As Vice-President, Human Resources at Cenovus Energy, Sarah Walters knows how to build a team that is effective, skilled, and inclusive. With more than 20 years of international strategic HR and organizational development experience gained within the rail, National Health Service and oil & gas industries, bringing large scale, multi-skilled teams together is her bread and butter. But her journey to the top of HR hasn’t been without risk, setbacks, and surprising twists.
My first job ever was… Debt Collection Officer for local government in the UK
I chose my career path because… I love the impact people can have on organizational performance and I just love the variety that comes with my role.
My proudest accomplishment is… My current role and position on the Leadership Team of Cenovus Energy.
My boldest move to date was… Asking my husband to quit his career and move to the USA with me, especially when he had a far more senior role than I at the time.
I surprise people when I tell them… I took an assessment to be a train driver and passed.
My best advice to people starting their career is… Be open to all opportunities, make the best out of all of them, be positive, be inquisitive and always be kind.
My best advice from a mentor was… Be confident, be authentic, dive in and embrace the challenges that are put in front of you.
My biggest setback was… As with many people, we all suffer from setbacks during our careers but I am a big believer that this is how we learn, develop and grow.
I overcame it by… In all the setbacks I have had in my career, I do my best to find the positive, find the learning and focus on finding the best outcome possible. Then share those learning’s with others to help them avoid the same pitfalls!
Work/life balance is… Having the discipline to know when to stop and go home! Finding efficient ways of working and keeping it simple – don’t overcomplicate things. Recognizing the importance of your support network outside of work and being as committed to them as you are to your work.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am a grannie to a 6 year old boy.
I stay inspired by… Surrounding myself with positive and driven people and finding the positive in any situation.
The future excites me because… Who knows what new learnings it can bring and how it can make things better for everyone – I love to see progress.
My next step is… Who knows! I have never really planned any of my moves but have always embraced them when they have presented themselves!
Dr. Valerie Taylor, psychiatrist-in-chief at Women’s College Hospital, is leading the way in breaking down barriers to care when it comes to women’s mental health. She spoke to us about how she and her team at Canada’s largest clinical and research program for women’s mental health are working to improve access and close the gaps — and her advice for other women on a mission to make a difference.
By Marie Moore
When Dr. Valerie Taylor joined Women’s College Hospital (WCH) as psychiatrist-in-chief in 2011, she knew she was standing on the shoulders of giants: in 1926, WCH established one of the earliest outpatient women’s mental health programs in Toronto and has been a leader in the field ever since.
But it’s under Dr. Taylor’s watch that the hospital’s Women’s Mental Health Program has grown into Canada’s largest clinical and research program of its kind. To her, that title comes with a responsibility to strive to reach women well beyond the walls of Women’s College Hospital.
“Our goal is not just to be a clinical resource and to provide excellent care — which clearly we try to do — but we also understand that we have a mandate to improve care provincially and even nationally,” she says. “Our focus on virtual, online care ensures that the expertise we’ve developed is accessible not just to people within a certain radius of the hospital, but to a much broader population. We’re thinking all the time about how we can reach more people.”
The issue of access to care is particularly crucial when it comes to women’s mental health, says Dr. Taylor. Not only do women face more barriers to accessing mental health services than men, but the stigma can be greater, too.
“Women are more likely to have issues with poverty, or challenges juggling the care of children or their aging parents,” she says. “Women are less likely to engage in addiction programming, because they don’t have thirty days to give up between work and childcare responsibilities. And stigma plays a huge role: women often think that if they get sick it means they aren’t good mothers. If a woman is in the workforce and she gets depressed, she thinks she is proving the rhetoric that women can’t keep up.”
Dr. Taylor became interested in issues of mental health early on — when she was still in medical school, in fact. It was then that she took notice of the unique challenges women face when it comes to receiving care for mental health concerns, as well as what appeared to be a strong relationship between mental health and chronic diseases. Since then, she’s devoted her career not only to breaking down barriers to care but to understanding how mental health impacts physical health, and vice versa.
But it’s her focus on developing new models of virtual care that’s positioning Women’s College Hospital as a world-leader in bringing mental healthcare to women where and when they need it.
“It’s important for everybody to know that behind every great success is a lot of failures. It’s okay to do things wrong and to learn from them, and it’s important to be in an environment where you are allowed to do that.”
The hospital’s online Mother Matters program, for example, provides virtual support to women during pregnancy, and Dr. Taylor’s team has partnered with the University of Toronto to create the Online Psychiatric Evaluation Network (OPEN), which is a series of online educational modules that helps educate families, patients and practitioners about different issues related to mental health. The hospital also helps to evaluate large, national e-health programs, to ensure they are effective.
“I think that e-health visits, e-consults and virtual care can’t replace face-to-face all the time,” says Dr. Taylor, “but it can certainly help patients who are restricted in terms of their access — and helps us provide care to women in even the most remote communities.”
While her tenure at Women’s College Hospital has by all measures been a great success, Dr. Taylor’s career hasn’t been without its setbacks. “About a million,” she says with a laugh. But she sees these challenges as a chance to learn and improve, and she advises other women to do the same.
“It’s important for everybody to know that behind every great success is a lot of failures. It’s okay to do things wrong and to learn from them, and it’s important to be in an environment where you are allowed to do that. It’s okay if you don’t succeed at one thing, or you don’t succeed the first time — you just have to revisit and refocus. Sometimes people, women especially, think that means they can’t hack it. But they shouldn’t get discouraged.”
This positive attitude has not only enabled her many achievements, but has also helped define her leadership style, which she says is based on creating optimism and instilling trust. It’s clearly having an impact: over the past six years, Dr. Taylor and her team have continued to improve upon one of world’s premier women’s mental health programs. Around 70,000 women access services at WCH each year, with countless more benefitting from virtual care programs.
As she leads her team to new accomplishments and ever-greater impact, Dr. Taylor says she never stops asking herself two questions:
“How can we be innovative to ensure that people are getting the appropriate care? How can we continue to be a leader in this area? People’s lives are being changed because of the work we’re doing here, and we can never stop striving for better.”
For more than 100 years Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare, and working to close the health gaps that exist in healthcare for women because their unique needs are not taken into consideration. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading, academic ambulatory hospital. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs.
Earlier this summer, Heather Barnabe was named CEO of our charity of choice, G(irls)20. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country education interventions. Her career has thus far taken her across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America for Right To Play, advocating for women’s and girl’s rights around the world.
My first job ever was… Working at the movie theatre. We were allowed to eat popcorn on our break and after our shift. It was heaven.
I decided to start my own thing… I was fortunate to move into this role after Farah Mohamed, now the CEO at Malala Fund, started G(risl)20.
My education prepared me for where I am now by… Teaching me multidimensional thinking, reasoning and analyzing… the good, the bad and the ugly. It also opened me to the world of political, economic and feminist theories that have, in many ways, shaped my values and guided many of my career choices.
My proudest accomplishment is… Having worked around the globe, I’m proud of the incredible network of colleagues and friends that teach, motivate, inspire, amuse and push me to do awesome things.
My boldest move to date was… I’d say bold is a character trait many of my friends would use to describe me. Whether that be my career choice, my statements, my values, the type of wine I bring to a dinner party, or my strong eyebrows: I’m no stranger to bold moves. In fact, jumping into this CEO position felt bold – it’s exhilarating and terrifying and incredibly rewarding, like any bold move.
I surprise people when I tell them… How many countries I’ve visited.
My best advice to people starting in their career is… Understand this is a long game and adjust accordingly. Find a mentor, have a strategy, seize opportunities when you can and, most importantly, speak up.
My best advice from my mentor was… Go into every meeting, job interview, sales pitch, whatever it is, with a few well-formulated, critical points you want to make and don’t leave until you’ve made them. It seems obvious and simple but it has helped me stay focused when articulation and brevity are key.
My biggest setback was… I once found myself heartbroken, with a job coming to an end and living in a city I didn’t love. When everyone else seemed to be moving farther ahead in their lives, I felt lost, stuck and heading in the wrong direction.
I overcame it by… Besides leaning heavily on family and friends (and wine), I focused entirely on my career. I worked hard, ended up in a job I loved and found a fulfilment in my career that I hadn’t had in my personal life. When I look back at that time now, I feel like I dodged a bullet as that life was never going to be a satisfying one for me.
Work/life balance is… Finding time for self-care and fun. Self-care for me means exercise and proper eating. Fun is Greg, friends, family, laughter and getting outside. The balance is easier when you have a job you love and you find joy in work.
If you google me, you still wouldn’t know… That I’m a Jeopardy fanatic and my bucket list consists of one thing: becoming a Jeopardy contestant.
I stay inspired by… Look what I do for a living! I’m inspired every day by the young women who come into the G(irls)20 family to grow their leadership skills and give back to their communities in the most amazing, innovative and meaningful ways.
The future excites me because… When everyone else is complaining about millenials, I think they are the greatest generation. They care about the world around them, they are less prejudiced and they have innovative, creative minds that we already benefit from daily.
My next step is… To take G(irls)20 to the next level, growing existing programs, creating new programs and continue to raise awareness about the importance of access, resources and agency girls and young women need to reach their potential.
When Gillian Riley, an EVP at Scotiabank, joined a 10-day hiking and rafting adventure organized by True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation supporting Canadian military families, she knew she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. She quickly realized that the mentorship went both ways.
By Shelley White
Following in the footsteps of famed Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie this summer was a “life-changing” experience for Gillian Riley.
She recalls the moment when her expedition team reached the rock where Mackenzie inscribed his name in 1793, becoming the first European to cross Canada from coast to coast. Exhausted from 10 days of hiking through B.C.’s Coast Mountains, white-water rafting and canoeing on the rough waters of the Bella Coola River, her team stood and sang “O Canada” together. Gillian says it was an emotional moment for all involved.
“Everyone cried,” says Gillian, Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking at Scotiabank. “It was so moving; I can’t even tell you. We’d been working together for 10 days and when we got there, it was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”
“It was that magical feeling of, ‘We did this – and no one has done this since he did it.’ Knowing that we got there as a team, it was very, very powerful.”
Gillian’s expedition was one of three challenging adventures sponsored by Scotiabank this summer in partnership with True Patriot Love, a charitable foundation that supports the mental, physical and social well-being of the 700,000 military families who live across Canada. Each expedition brought together influential Canadian business leaders with ill or injured armed forces veterans, providing mentorship opportunities for the soldiers and shining a light on the challenges veterans face when transitioning from military to civilian life.
Gillian notes that the only knowledge most people have about the combat experiences of military personnel is from books and movies.
“It seems far away and foreign. But when you talk to the military, you get an understanding of what they do to protect and serve our country and the passion with which they do that,” she says. “Many of them are third and fourth generation in the military and they feel such a duty to protect this country.”
The veterans on the expedition team were open about their experiences in combat and some of the challenges they have faced transitioning to civilian life. Gillian says that hiking up mountains allowed plenty of time for one-on-one conversations with her military teammates, as well as group discussions at day’s end.
“We spent a lot of time talking. They would share their stories with the group, with people asking questions and working through issues with them,” she says.
There was also plenty of fun on the trip, says Gillian, much of it involving card games like euchre. “I got an email from one of the military fellows this week and he said the best part of the trip for him was the card games,” she says. “Also, the laughter, the humor; I haven’t laughed that much in 10 years.”
Gillian says she went into the project knowing she would have the opportunity to mentor ill and injured veterans who are trying to build meaningful careers in the civilian world. But she quickly realized that the opportunity went two ways. In her role at Scotiabank, Gillian is an experienced leader, responsible for the strategic positioning and growth of the commercial banking division and leads a large sales force. But her time with the veterans reinforced that there is still more to learn.
“The things I learned from a leadership standpoint and a personal standpoint were enormous,” she says.
One of the most important things she learned is “followership,” an essential skill in the military.
“I had a specific mentee in the program, but I think he became more like a mentor for me,” says Gillian. “One of the things he taught me early on was, ‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers. I’ve really been practicing that, just this week even. Learning when to sort of back off, to listen and hear and not jump in to try to solve something. That’s one of the big takeaways I’ve taken back and I’ve already shared with my teams.”
“‘A good leader is a good follower.’ It’s about listening a lot, asking open-ended questions before jumping into the answers.”
Having made those connections with her expedition team, Gillian says the bonds remain in place. She has been in communication by phone and email with several of her new friends and will continue to mentor and support them as they develop and explore post-military career paths.
It’s not just veterans that stand to gain when they transition to civilian jobs, notes Gillian. Canadian companies can benefit greatly from hiring veterans, and it is a practice in which Scotiabank is already involved. The way they are trained and the skills they develop in the military could be a boon to any organization.
“When you’re going into battle, you need to be well-trained, you need to be good under pressure; you need to be very disciplined,” she says. “There is so much opportunity to hire from the armed forces and I don’t think companies always understand that. I think the more we can help companies figure out how they can bring the military in their organizations, the better.”
Jacquie Ryan wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after she graduated university with a degree in English and Film Studies, so she headed to Banff to coach skiing. The short-term job set her on a path to a long-term career, and she’s continued to let her passions guide her profession ever since.
By Katy Paul-Chowdhury
Are you an arts enthusiast, hockey parent, or marathon runner? If so, you have probably noticed that Scotiabank sponsors many of the events you love. Behind that powerful presence is Jacquie Ryan, the Bank’s vice president of sponsorship marketing and philanthropy.
Jacquie joined Scotiabank five years ago with the goal to focus its sponsorship program. Under her leadership, the Bank has been frequently recognized for its acclaimed programs including the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Scotiabank Community Hockey Sponsorship Program, and Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada. Over the past year, Jacquie and the team have focused the Bank’s Philanthropy efforts on young people in the community, including launching a research initiative that provides greater insight into the current state of young people in all areas where the Bank operates.
Jacquie’s route to her ground-breaking role in sponsorship marketing was not traditional. Unsure of the career she wanted to pursue, Jacquie headed to Banff to coach skiing after graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in English and Film Studies. Of this experience, Jacquie says, “Skiing is my favourite sport. I love everything about the outdoors and became interested in the ski industry — PR, marketing, sales. This led to nine years working in Banff, New Zealand and Whistler. When I wondered if I should pursue a more traditional job my father said, ‘Bay Street will always be here. Focus on what you love and come back when you’re ready.’”
“When I wondered if I should pursue a more traditional job my father said, ‘Bay Street will always be here. Focus on what you love and come back when you’re ready.'”
Jacquie eventually returned to Toronto to enroll in the George Brown College, Graduate Sports and Event Marketing program. During an internship at a sports marketing agency, she became excited by the opportunities she found in sponsorship and community marketing. Over the following years, Jacquie took on a series of agency and corporate positions where she was able to tackle increasingly complex and high-impact projects, including General Motor’s ski properties, RBC’s Olympic Program, and the RBC Foundation.
Reflecting on her career path and the lessons she’s learned, Jacquie says, “Passion is my compass. It has taken me through every job I’ve had, and it’s what drives my best work. Find what is meaningful to you and use it to guide your career. You’ll get up every day wanting to learn and be happy to work hard. You’ll build your resume, your network, and a tremendous opportunity to give back to the next generation who are coming up behind you.”
“Passion is my compass.”
When she arrived at Scotiabank, Jacquie found a company that supported many programs, but wanted to make a deeper impact. “We decided to focus our resources in a few key areas that matter most to our customers: hockey, arts and marathons. That focus has substantially strengthened our brand equity. People know what we stand for. And now we are embarking on that same journey in philanthropy.”
Last year Scotiabank gave over $70 million in donations, sponsorships and other forms of assistance globally. Investing in communities has been a priority for Scotiabank for over 180 years, however the Bank saw an opportunity to be more focussed in its efforts to drive deeper impact. “We realized we could have the greatest impact on communities by investing in young people, particularly in their health, well-being and education.”
The principle of shared value says that a business’ competitiveness and the health of the surrounding community are mutually dependent. “In addition to Canada, we operate in many developing countries. Children are the path to social and economic prosperity and by investing in their health, well-being and education, we help build communities in which we will all thrive.” To guide its philanthropic giving, Scotiabank has created the Young People in the Community (YPC) Index, a scorecard of nineteen indicators that assesses health, wellbeing and education by country, and identifies the highest-priority investments with the greatest possibility of positive impact in each region.
The potential to help improve the wellbeing of so many is what energizes Jacquie after a lifetime of following her passions. “Working at Scotiabank on sponsorship and philanthropy is a very rewarding career, which I am thankful for every day.”
Tired of mediocrity and negativity at work? Jana Raver, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, offers five strategies to give you the power to inspire organizational change.
By Alan Morantz
When we think of deviance, we typically think of social outcasts who behave in some abhorrent way outside the norms of society. From an organizational perspective, deviance is also typically associated with such behaviors as slacking, not upholding the norms of the organization, unethical conduct, and even incivility and harassment.
But there’s more to deviance than meets the eye. And, there can be great benefits to going against the norm, especially when the norm isn’t overly positive.
According to Jana Raver, Associate Professor at Smith School of Business and E. Marie Shantz Faculty Fellow in Organizational Behaviour, the positive norms that we hope to find within organizations such as active engagement, growth, achievement, honesty, and benevolence, aren’t always as prevalent as we’d hope. “Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.
“Constructive deviants” are engaged employees who challenge organizational lethargy and push for higher standards of behaviour.
When you’re able to demonstrate positive behaviours by acting in a way that’s outside of the norm, you have the chance to expose the standards that are actually dysfunctional. “This type of behaviour has been linked to improved job performance ratings, recommendations for rewards, and actual rewards including raises and promotions,” Jana says.
Smart companies realize that encouraging constructive deviance saves money and increases innovation. Research has shown that it exposes dysfunction and unethical behaviour, allows for social change, encourages growth and learning, and improves group decision-making.
But it’s not always easy. “If you sit back like a disengaged, apathetic employee who will simply tolerate mediocrity,” Jana says, “then you’re not going to be able to make that positive change.”
To inspire organizational change, Jana offers the following five strategies to stand up for what you believe in:
Find your cause: Determine the issues you believe strongly enough in to stand up to.
Pick your battles: You can’t resist and question everything, so check your motives and be sure that you’re committed to helping improve the group/organization rather than putting your own self-interest first.
Know how to build a case: Know that the quality of your input matters, so draw upon principles of effective persuasion and social networking skills to support your cause. Do your homework to ensure that what you’re proposing has been well thought-out and can be clearly articulated.
Be willing to do the work: High quality suggestions are those that you’re willing to execute yourself and to take ownership of, rather than passing on to someone else. Know that once you’re invested in any cause it will take work and commitment to bring it to life.
Be persistent: Finally, realize that if you’re fighting norms you have to be willing to go the distance. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. If needed, know where to go for support in order to make change a reality.
“So, dig deep inside,” Jana says, “and be the change you want to see. You can choose to take action and be a constructive deviant to uphold the standards of what you believe in.”
You can hear more of Jana Raver’s discussion on constructive deviance in the workplace in this Smith Business Insight video, Building a Better Deviant.
In just one leap of faith, Brenda Rideout entered the new world of fintech in the 90s, kick-starting a nearly 20 year tenure at one of Canada’s most innovative financial institutions, Tangerine Bank, where she is now CEO. Learn how her personal passion, several influential women, and a desire to be bold has helped shape Brenda’s impressive career.
By Shelley White
Tangerine Bank CEO Brenda Rideout has never been afraid to take a risk.
“When new opportunities presented themselves, I raised my hand for them,” she says of her impressive career path. In March, Brenda became the first female CEO of a major Canadian financial institution, a remarkable milestone in an industry where women in top jobs are still few and far between.
Brenda recalls the leap of faith she took when she first joined ING Direct in 1999 (which rebranded as Tangerine in 2014). She was at Shoppers Drug Mart at the time, when she heard that ING Direct founder Arkadi Kulmann was looking for a director of software development to give the bank an Internet presence in Canada. After a meeting with the iconoclastic CEO, Brenda was inspired by his vision of branchless, Internet banking.
“That was in the 90s, so there were organizations that had static websites, but nobody had a truly transactional website,” says Brenda. “So I went home that night to tell my husband, ‘You know what? I’m going to leave my nice, secure job at Shoppers to go work for this direct bank and help Canadians save their money.’”
It was a bold and risky move, but Brenda liked the idea of being able to create something innovative from scratch. “It was a startup, so I wouldn’t have to worry about legacy systems,” she says. “I would have the opportunity to build and shape from a technology standpoint.”
Technology had been a passion for Brenda ever since high school. Growing up the youngest of six kids in a “typical, middle-class family” in Toronto, Brenda took an introduction to computers course and learned early programming languages like BASIC and FORTRAN. She was instantly hooked.
“My parents were encouraging me to become a nurse or a teacher, so you can imagine their surprise when I told them I wanted to study computers and program,” she says. “They didn’t know what that was. There was no such thing as the Internet at that time, let alone videogames and the gadgets we have today.”
After high school, Brenda studied computers at Seneca College, then began working as a programmer. Craving opportunities for advancement, she took a job with Imperial Life Insurance Company, where she worked her way up into management. It was at Imperial Life that Brenda met her first mentor, Carole Briard (who would go on to become Chief Information Officer at Bank of Canada).
“Carole played a key role throughout my career,” says Brenda. “There were very few [women in technology at the time], and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important. To this day, we are still very close.”
“There were very few women in technology at the time, and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important.”
Brenda also believes in continuous learning. She holds a number of technology certificates, and completed an Executive Program at Queen’s University in addition to a Masters Certificate in Innovation at Schulich School of Business.
A strong advocate for the advancement of women in the Canadian workforce, Brenda has led the women in leadership program at Tangerine for several years. She says that mentoring can be a valuable way for women to support each other.
“I think that lack of confidence and fear of failure can hold us back, myself included,” she says. “I definitely reach out to my female network. And it’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”
The late Mona Goldstein, Toronto marketing guru and CEO at Wunderman, was another important mentor in Brenda’s life. After successfully taking on several operational-type roles at ING Direct, Brenda was asked to head up marketing for the company, a position she found daunting.
“It’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”
“It was not necessarily in my wheelhouse and I certainly felt inept at times, wondering, ‘What am I doing here?’ My confidence was wavering,” says Brenda. “But Mona provided me some tremendous insight and encouragement and was one of the smartest, most inspirational women I’ve ever met.”
As a mom with a high-profile career, Brenda says work-life balance could be a challenge, especially when her son was young. In the tech world, working after hours is a necessity. Because it was hard to control her afternoons and evenings, Brenda says she felt strongly that she needed to control her mornings.
“I needed to connect with my son in the morning, so I would have breakfast with him every morning, I’d give him a hug, I’d put him on the bus. In banking, it’s quite common to have breakfast meetings starting at 7:30am, and I really had to be strong about saying no to early morning meetings,” says Brenda. “If you say no often enough, and say, ‘I’m happy to meet with you later in the day, but I’m not coming in for a breakfast meeting,’ people get used to it.”
Brenda says she still makes mornings with her family a priority.
“My son is 14 now and we still have breakfast every morning, although I think it’s more for me than him now. It’s getting harder to get that hug,” she laughs.
When she’s not carving a path for women in leadership roles, Brenda says she craves time in the outdoors with her family – hiking, golfing, skiing and walking their two dogs.
“I also enjoy cooking and baking,” she says. “If my husband will get the ingredients, I’m more than happy to put on some music and cook in my kitchen.”
Brenda attributes her career success to a strong work ethic and ample curiosity. “And having family and friends and mentors – people you can talk to and trust – is a must,” she adds.
Her advice for women hoping to emulate her success? Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn, and raise your hand when opportunities arise.
“Joining ING Direct was a risk,” she says. “But the journey has been amazing.”
As Chief of Staff, RBC Wealth Management – U.S., Kristen Kimmel has a job description that doesn’t fit well into just a few sentences. But despite her broad role, she still makes time to be a mentor, and advocate for women’s advancement in the workplace.
By Marie Moore
Kristen Kimmell is one of those fortunate people who discovered at an early age what her chosen career would be. In fact, her path to becoming the chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management – U.S. had a very clear and memorable start: “My older sister brought home an assignment for her high school accounting class. I can still see the big portfolio, and the green ledger paper. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
Kristen was so fascinated by the project — which included recording debits and credits in a ledger, and producing handwritten income statements — that she ended up doing most of her sister’s homework, even though she was several years younger. Her passion for accounting never faded, and she went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Jamestown University, landing her first job as an accountant in 1993.
Kristen’s career in financial services continued to flourish, although the path wasn’t exactly linear. She joined her current firm in 1995 (which became part of RBC in 2000), and has held numerous positions including staff accountant, accounting supervisor, fixed income accounting manager, director of financial reporting and administration, and director of strategic finance. While some of her title changes represented a natural progression, she has admittedly “taken some leaps sideways and in different directions.” The promotion to chief of staff came in 2010, a position that she describes in its simplest terms as “a combined chief administrative officer and chief operating officer role.”
The longer explanation she offers more accurately captures the broad scope of her work: “I tie everything together — from the business perspective back to the execution — with all the functional groups,” Kristen says. “I’m connecting the dots, making sure we have the right priorities and are executing appropriately, and keeping everything running behind the scenes.”
She credits RBC’s culture of development for enabling her to climb through the company’s ranks. “They really provided some incredible growth opportunities. It’s just a culture where we are always looking to cultivate talent,” she says. From leadership training to formal mentorship programs, Kristen has taken advantage of the many initiatives designed to help high potentials succeed. She also hasn’t been shy about creating her own channels for learning.
“I’ve had a lot of people that didn’t even know they were my mentor,” she says with a laugh. “I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”
“I just looked at people who I admired, and when I had an opportunity to be in meetings with them, I used those as an informal guide on how they handled things. What did I see that they did well that worked? What was something that they were frustrated by? And I would always find opportunities to migrate to work with those individuals.”
As Kristen progressed in her career, she herself became an integral part of the development culture. At her peak, she’s had seventeen simultaneous mentees, coming from a combination of formal programs, outreach by managers, and personal requests. She has an innate desire to share her experiences with others to help them find their own solutions, and knowing how much courage it can take to ask someone to be a mentor, she rarely says no.
In addition to her work with individuals, Kristen is having an impact on a broad scale in the area of women’s advancement. She was named Co-Executive Sponsor of the Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) in September 2012. In the role, she provides input and leadership to WAFA on their goals of recruiting and retaining female branch directors and financial advisors, and increasing the productivity of financial advisors. Kristen is also on the board of RBC Wealth Management’s Women of Wealth (WoW) global women’s network. Developed within RBC, WoW brings together women representing different business units from across the globe, with the aim of getting a unified approach on activities related to helping women advance in the workplace.
One of the initiatives she strongly supports is providing women with access to visible role models, who can speak authentically about their successes — and struggles. “As women, we tend to think that our issues and our challenges are unique to us, so we don’t reach out, or think that anybody else would understand them. We hold ourselves to this unrealistic standard, thinking that everybody else has achieved it,” says Kristen. “I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”
“I want to help spread the message that women who are successful have the same faces as the women who are working their way up. I’ve come to work with different coloured shoes on, and I think people just appreciate knowing things like that.”
This belief that women often carry — that everyone around the table has the answers but us — can lead to a fear of asking what we don’t know about. Kristen sees this combining with our natural tendency to overbook ourselves, and leading to another issue for women, outside of the workplace: relying on our partners to do the finances. “We divide it up like it’s a household chore. Not because we’re not interested or capable, but because it’s one more thing on the plate and it’s an easy one to pass on,” she says. “It may seem like another chore, but it’s a life skill.”
Alleviating a packed calendar can help, but she also feels we need to have a more honest conversation on the subject of work/life balance. “A balance indicates to me that once you get the weight setting on each side, then it’s done and you can walk away from it, forever balanced. But you can’t think of work/life balance as an end state. It’s an evolution,” Kristen explains. “Sometimes you’re going to get heavy on one side or the other, and having the ability to recognize that and being able to adjust it when you’re out of balance, is the best possible thing.”
Carolina Parra is the Vice President of Corporate and Commercial Risk at Scotiabank Chile. She’s also a mother, wife, and adamant advocate for the value of diversity, recognizing that when a diverse group of talented individuals is heard, incredible things can happen for both business and culture.
By Shelley White
Carolina Parra is an executive at one of Chile’s banks. She’s also a wife and mother to a 7-year-old daughter. But whether Carolina’s in the boardroom or at home, she makes it clear which role comes first.
“Balancing is hard, but I’m a wife and mother first and that’s my priority and there’s no discussion about that,” says Carolina, Vice President of Corporate and Commercial risk at Scotiabank Chile. “Building a family takes teamwork and my husband is my teammate. He is a husband and father first. Our family is central to what we do and it is a balancing act to ensure that one or both of us is always in our daughter’s life.”
Growing up in Bogota, Colombia as the eldest of two daughters, Carolina says her upbringing had a huge impact on her career aspirations and future success.
“Both my parents worked when we were growing up and had successful careers – my dad in business and my mother as a dentist,” she says. “Seeing their passion for their work was what inspired me to focus on studying and challenge myself, making sure I could reach whatever goal I wanted.”
Watching her parents successfully balance rewarding careers and family life was an important influence on Carolina’s life. “They ensured we would always spend time together at the end of the day to share our activities and celebrate whatever we had accomplished,” she says. “That really was the basis for what my family is today.”
After completing her industrial engineering degree at university in Bogota and a stint in consulting, Carolina found herself drawn to the world of commercial banking. She says she always liked the financial side and enjoyed numbers. Over the next two decades, Carolina expanded her expertise, working in different areas of banking as well as several different countries, including Colombia, Puerto Rico, Chile and Canada. She says her experiences enhanced her appreciation for diverse cultures, as well as the need to understand context when entering a new environment.
“Each culture has its wonderful sides, and its quirks,” she says. “The first thing you need to learn is that each culture is shaped by what the people have lived through in the past, and you need to understand, respect and enjoy that.”
In addition to leading a team of 60 people as a vice president at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina is also a proud member of Chile’s diversity and inclusion council because “that’s the world’s reality now,” she says. “Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse. Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”
“Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse. Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”
To promote diversity at Scotiabank Chile, the council has created an internal communications campaign to educate the workforce on the benefits of diversity and inclusion, as well as hosting multicultural lunches with staff to celebrate the different cultural backgrounds of employees. The council also recently launched an initiative to recruit more people with disabilities.
“At Scotiabank, we’re all working to create awareness that there’s value to diversity, that we need to cherish and create that shift in culture to challenge our unconscious bias and create that inclusive environment,” says Carolina.
She notes that women can undercut their own progress by not “raising their hand” when it comes to promotion opportunities. That’s why she believes it’s important for senior management to help identify women who are ready for career advancement.
Coaching can also be a powerful tool to help talented women progress in the business world. “It’s that constant feedback to employees to focus on how they can improve, how they can expand their influence and improve their technical skills,” says Carolina.
For women who want to excel in their chosen industry, Carolina says her first advice is always, find what you love and do it very well.
“You have to love it, you have to own it and show people that you are good at it,” she says. “The second piece of advice is make your voice heard. In a discussion, raise your hand and speak up. The third piece of advice is in order to advance and be a leader, you need to learn to coach and develop other people, because that speaks highly of how much of a leader you can be.”
When she isn’t leading her team or coaching the next generation at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina’s focus is on spending her leisure time with her family, in activities like swimming and playing tennis.
She hopes to raise her daughter with the same confidence that she grew up with, and the knowledge that it’s possible to have both a family and a fulfilling career.
“Family has to be the priority in my world,” she reiterates firmly. “If it’s not, I’m only making a living, I’m not making a life. Life is what matters in the end.”
It’s no longer the norm to spend twenty years at the same company, but Allison Hakomaki has done just that — and it’s enabled her to live in cities across Canada, better her education, and climb to a role in senior management.
By Hailey Eisen
Changing jobs every two to three years has become the norm rather than the exception — but contrary to popular belief, it’s not the only route to interesting experiences and opportunities for growth. There’s something to be said for carving out a meaningful career within the same company.
Take Allison Hakomaki, for example: her 20-year career with BMO has taken her across the country from coast to coast, giving her the chance to live in a number of different cities, work across a variety of business lines, and pursue academic advancement including earning a CMA and EMBA.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Allison began her career with BMO when she entered into the commercial banker training program in Toronto. Fresh out of business school she was eager to apply her learnings to the real world. While she was being encouraged by her employer to go back to school to pursue an MBA — something the bank regarded highly for its leadership-track employees — Allison decided she would first complete her CMA and get as much work experience as she could under her belt.
It would take more than 10 years and a move to Calgary (for a promotion to Managing Director, Corporate Finance) before Allison decided it was time to further her education. “The majority of the leadership team within BMO had MBAs, and I knew that in order to move into an executive role this was the next step,” she recalls.
Because her job already required quite a bit of travel, Allison was eager to find an EMBA program that she could complete without having to hop on a plane to attend classes. Queen’s Executive MBA at Smith School of Business presented itself as a great option that would allow her to learn out of a boardroom learning centre in Calgary while joining students from across the country in a live, interactive virtual learning environment.
Working with this diverse group of students turned out to be an invaluable experience — one that Allison was able to leverage as she moved up within the bank. “Professionally, the diversity really helped me. I now have a network of classmates from across the country, and from different industries — not just financial services, but also manufacturing, medical, self-employed, a real variety. It provides a number of different perspectives, which is really nice.”
Allison also learned invaluable lessons about working on a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. “You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful,” she says. “And to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by. Like the expectation that everyone has to contribute. If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”
“You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful, and to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by…If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”
In keeping with the Queen’s approach to team-based learning, Allison suggests that these team expectations be laid out and revisited, just like you would with a set of business goals. “Revisit them on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is performing at the level that’s expected. At the same time, allow them to evolve. As you learn to trust your team, you can operate more efficiently and effectively.”
The emphasis on teamwork in the Smith program was also an excellent opportunity for Allison to hone her leadership skills. “We all had to rise to the occasion,” she says. “At some points you had to lead and at some points you had to follow, and the key to success was to learn the strengths of your team members and leverage those.”
Allison’s growth was certainly noticed at BMO. Part way through the EMBA program she was promoted to her first executive position: District VP of New Brunswick and PEI. She moved with her husband to Moncton, New Brunswick, and, thanks to technological innovations in the program, was able to continue her EMBA. More moving vans were in the cards for Allison upon completing her EMBA: she and her husband relocated first to Halifax and then back to Calgary, where she took on her current role of Vice President and Head, Prairies Region, Corporate Finance Division. In that time, she also managed to have twins. As Allison says, “I was used to juggling multiple priorities.”
Almost three years into her current executive position, Allison hasn’t stopped her learning trajectory. “I consider myself a fair, empathetic leader, but I’m also serious — which can be a little intimidating,” she says. “I’m learning to show my fun side too. It’s a work in progress.”
Bridget Russo joined Shinola in 2012, relocating from her native Tribeca to the company’s Detroit headquarters in 2014. As Chief Marketing Officer she oversees global marketing and communications, building the American design brand through storytelling and well-made products. By bringing skilled manufacturing jobs back to Detroit, Shinola is also having a positive social impact on the community — a key element of their brand. It’s a perfect fit for Bridget, who made a name for herself in the fashion industry by pursuing projects she found ethically compelling, including the establishment of her own consulting firm focused on fashion ventures with a philanthropic angle.
My first job ever was… At a store in New York, which is now closed, called FAO Schwarz. I worked in the doll department.
My proudest accomplishment is… Somehow impressing my mother, who is not impressed, ever.
My boldest move to date was… Moving to Detroit.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I moved to Detroit.
The biggest marketing challenge companies face today is… Considering how much information is getting thrown at consumers on a minute-to-minute basis, the ability to break through and capture their attention is increasingly more challenging.
My best marketing advice for companies today is… Be authentic. Go with your gut. Stay true to the brand.
My biggest setback was… Leaving a job that I really loved too quickly for silly reasons. I would have eventually left, but I probably had a good five years to go before I did that. I did it in haste. I was turning 30 and thought I needed to grow up.
Work/life balance is… Never checking your emails after work, unless absolutely necessary. Keep two separate phones: one personal, one work.
My best advice from a mentor was… Take time to congratulate even the little successes of your team.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I am socially awkward and shy.
I stay inspired by… The people I work with everyday.
The future excites me because… I have hope, despite everything that’s going on in the world today. Human beings are human beings, and we’ll continue to do great things.