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Woman of the Week: Jennifer Reynolds

Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), thinks there is an ingrained corporate and economic culture that is to blame for the lack of gender equality within the financial industry. The number of women in positions of power has stagnated, and in 2017, that isn’t a good thing.

“I think sometimes people aren’t aware that Canada has fallen behind in terms of women in senior roles, on boards for examples,” Reynolds said. “Our representation is 12 per cent. Europe has representation up to 30-40 per cent. We, as a country, have fallen really far behind.”

WCM is the largest network of professional women in the Canadian capital markets. This group of women try to educate younger generations in the finance industry to consider careers in capital markets and advocate for greater gender diversity on boards and senior management. The organization hosts over 80 events a year and leads a number of campaigns, both in-person and online.

Reynolds became involved with WCM in 2000 and started volunteering for the then-grassroots organization helping educate young high school girls about careers involving math. She also volunteered for the mentorship program.

“When I graduated in 1994, I thought our generation would be the one where women would have leadership roles in the economy,” she said.

Obviously, WCM had an influence on Reynolds because she remained an active member of the organization for 13 years before becoming the president and CEO. The organization is shaking things up a bit under Reynold’s leadership, trying not only educate young women as to the many opportunities in finance and capital markets, but also trying to involve men in the dialogue.

“Most of these initiatives was about women discussing diversity. It took us a long time to get here, but now we are getting there and we have to involve men in the discussion because they are in senior leadership roles and we need to have dialogue with them to encourage progress,” she said.  “We need to give them a voice and an opportunity to see what they can do personally.”

One of the WCM programs Reynolds is most proud of is Return to Bay Street, an award that helps women return to the workforce after a career break. Each award-winning woman will receive a minimum four-month long paid contract with a sponsoring financial institution, $5,000 towards an education program, access to a WCM mentor, as well as a one-year membership with WCM.

Return to Bay Street is in its sixth year and will be accepting applications until April 13, 2017.

“Too often for women, if you need to take a break, it’s hard to come back,” Reynolds said. “You fall off the track because people think your skills are stale. [Return to Bay Street] helps replenish the pipeline for senior leadership. It brings back senior talent.”

Reynolds studied economics and political science at McGill University with the intention of becoming a lawyer. She found herself enjoying her economics classes immensely, and after four years decided she was better off in business.

“I ended up, fortunately, getting to know some people in the investment industry … and it sounded like a great career — fast paced, opportunity to travel, rewarding,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds worked with the Bank of Montreal as director of capital markets for 10 years before moving on to work with WCM. She is also on the board of the Canadian Development Investment Corporation, a crown corporation that works for the federal minister of finance and is responsible for a number of initiatives.

Reynolds thoroughly enjoys working on the board. In addition to her role with the Canadian Development Investment Corporation, she is also the director on the board of Studio 190, an independent, Toronto-based theatre company.  For her, being on various boards allows her to explore different industries and be creative. It’s also a great way to diversify her network.

As Reynolds explains, every organization has a president and CEO that runs the business, but that person reports to a board, “a bunch of senior people with expertise who help guide strategic vision.” This can be everything from where the company should be heading to overseeing financial statements — it’s also why it’s so important that boards be gender diverse.

“So, what does it matter? It matters because I think women should be part of creating strategic missions of businesses and companies in Canada,” Reynolds said. “From a purely data and research perspective, studies that show if you have that gender diverse boards, it makes your business more profitable. But, you need that diversity on your board – and from a common sense perspective, if you are recruiting from 50 per cent of talent pool, you’ve got to be limiting yourself. You are not getting the best. It’s common sense.”

How do companies do that? Reynolds said it takes two steps. The first is to actually hire women in positions of power and the second is to change your business’ culture. It all starts with statistics, ensuring the company counts and measures everything. “How many women in each level of organization, how long does promotion take, wage gap at each level, then you will figure out what the problem is. Is it that your leadership team only brings forward candidates that are men and non-minority, for example,” Reynolds said.

“If you leave it to chance, it won’t happen. But, if I have anything to say about it, it’s going to change!”

 

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