BC Business Magazine
On the Money
96 FEMALE LEADERS AND TRAILBLAZERS IN FINANCE, FROM INVESTORS TO BANKERS TO CFOS
For Kai Li, a finance professor at UBC Sauder School of Business, it’s become a familiar sight. In a typical year, about 50 percent of the school’s commerce undergraduates are female. But as thirdyear specialization approaches, relatively few women choose finance. Li, who teaches a course that readies students for the investment banking industry, thinks there’s both a supply and a demand problem. “People who I invite as guest speakers, there are very few female role models, unfortunately,” she says. At the same time, investment banking’s long hours may not appeal to women seeking work-life balance.
Despite such challenges, this province is home to a remarkable group of women working in financial roles. For our fifth annual B.C.’S Most Influential Women feature, we again sought the advice of an expert panel (see p.47)—three of whose five members are women making their mark in finance—to identify names worthy of recognition.
We defined finance broadly, to encompass everyone from CFOS and entrepreneurs to bank executives and money managers. As usual, our list is representative, not exhaustive or definitive. The goal is to celebrate the achievements of female leaders at different career
stages, hear some of their stories and show how big an impact they’re making as a group. This time around, we’ve divided the list into six categories, mindful that some of them overlap.
In the financial sector and elsewhere, research suggests that female leaders make a business more successful. In a 2016 global survey of almost 22,000 companies, the Washington, D.C.– based Peterson Institute for International Economics found that nearly 60 percent had no female directors and fewer than 5 percent had a female CEO. However, among profitable companies surveyed, those with 30-percent female leadership in the C-suite could expect their net margin to be 1 percentage point higher than the others—a 15-percent profit gain.
Also in 2016, in a study of male and female Finnish traders from 1995 to 2011, women averaged an impressive 21.4-percent annual internal rate of return across the 28 stocks tracked. On average, the researchers found, they bought shares for less and sold them for more than their male peers. For her part, Li co-authored a 2014 study of acquisition bids by S&P 1500 companies from 1997 to 2009, showing that for each additional female director, the price a firm paid for its takeover target fell by 15.4 percent.
Asked what can be done to get more women interested in finance, she points to Wall Street banks’ move to limit the number of hours worked, including a ban on weekend toil. Fostering a workplace culture that welcomes gender and racial diversity is important, too, says Li, who is also UBC Sauder’s senior associate dean, equity and diversity.
Two more key pieces: mentorship and role models. “I understand they do not have enough senior women in that industry, but senior males can also be mentors,” Li says. “But they also have to overcome the backlash of the #Metoo events.”
were investors in Campfire, and Joey Houssian sits on its advisory committee, which led to her role with JH.
Gautam, who laughs easily, was always good at math, so she earned a commerce and finance degree at the University of Toronto. In 2005, with encouragement from informal mentor Kevin Li, who is still a friend and now heads U.S. investment banking for CIBC Capital Markets, she pursued a career in that industry, landing a job with Toronto-based Westwind Partners as an analyst. Around that time, the boutique investment bank had opened an office in London, where Gautam worked before moving to Citigroup in 2007.
Returning to Toronto in 2010, she did a brief stint as an associate for BMO Capital Markets and joined the investment team of ONCAP, the mid-market platform of Onex Corp. She spent almost five years with the private equity giant, including two as director of fundraising at Onex Partners. “If you think about the private equity investing cycle, it all starts with fundraising,” says Gautam, whose skills in that area and as an investor caught the attention of her future Campfire colleagues.
Joey Houssian invests in a variety of early-stage ventures in consumer products, real estate, and travel and tourism. He recently launched Vallea Lumina, created with Montreal’s Moment Factory, a global leader in video, lighting, sound and special effects. “It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to work in so many different areas,” Gautam says of JH, which has five staff.
Gautam sees plenty of women go into finance. Keeping them there is another matter. “Retaining that talent is the challenge we all face,” she says. “As you progress along and climb the ladder, there are fewer of us here at the top.”
When it comes to mentoring, Gautam keeps things informal. Besides sitting down with people introduced to her through a mutual connection, she sometimes responds to cold meeting requests on Linkedin. “The younger generation’s doing a great job of reaching out on their own,” she says. — N.R.
It was the early 1980s, and Brenda Leong was conflicted. A couple of years after graduating with a business degree from the University of Alberta, the native Calgarian had a job as a customer service representative at Bank of Nova Scotia. She enjoyed the field and had inherited her serial entrepreneur father, Carl’s, love of capital markets, but something didn’t seem right.
“When I reflect back now, one of the reasons I didn’t stay [in finance] and decided to pursue law was that I looked up into the executive level of the bank and saw that there were no women,” the affable but serious BCSC head says.
So it was off to the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. Leong spent about 15 years practising corporate law in Vancouver, but she never stopped dreaming of a career in the financial sector. She did a brief stint in the ’90s at her current workplace, but the watchdog was “going through some operational changes,” she says, prompting her to return to law.
In 2004, though, she was lured back, becoming executive director of the BCSC before being appointed chair and CEO five years later. She was recently named to a third five-year term with the regulator, slated to end in 2023.
Although finance has made great strides toward gender equality, Leong says, it still
has a ways to go. She’s encouraged by the number of women in her daughter’s business class at Mcgill University (Leong says it’s split 50/50 between genders), and hopeful that many of those students will go on to choose a financial career. “But it’s a complicated matter, and if it was an easy fix, we’d be there,” she explains. “My personal view is that there’s a lot of ingrained systemic biases, or what some writers have referred to as unconscious bias, which makes it challenging for women to succeed.”
At the BCSC, Leong is proud that about half of its 243 employees are women. As for the rest of her legacy, she points to things like keeping pace with fintech innovation, as well as promoting education in avoiding fraud, as touchstones from her 10 years as CEO of a body that prioritizes protecting investors in B.C. The securities commission just got a $7.6-million revenue increase from higher fees to beef up enforcement.
“We strive to implement effective, smart regulation to have a vibrant capital market,” Leong maintains. “At the same time, we work to protect investors through our enforcement efforts and public education campaigns.” —N.C.