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- 8 March, 2022 Women Who Lead
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March 8, 2022
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Women Who Lead
Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College
Rita Trichur, Senior Business Writer and Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Retired Deals and Advisory Partner, PricewaterhouseCooper
Sarah Jordan, CEO, Mastermind Toys
Vanessa Kanu, Chief Financial Officer, TELUS International
Distinguished Guest Speakers
Doreen Lilienfeld, Partner, Shearman & Sterling LLC
Sonal Doshi, Managing Director and Head, Canadian Financial Sponsors, Investment Banking at TD Securities
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. I also am your host for today's event in celebration of International Women's Day.
I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement. I am hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.
The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Shearman & Sterling LLP, and TD Securities. Thank you to today's supporting sponsors, JP Morgan Chase, Level5 Strategy, and RBC Capital Markets. Thank you, of course, as well to our season sponsors, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, Waste Connections of Canada, and Bruce Power.
Before we get started, just wanted to share a few housekeeping notes. I'd like to remind everybody who is participating today, that this is an interactive event, and to those attending live, I encourage you to engage, by taking advantage of the question box you can find below your on-screen video player. We reserve time for audience questions at the end of the discussion. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed on the screen throughout the event. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. To those watching on-demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.
It is now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I am honoured to welcome our guests today, Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Sarah Jordan, Vanessa Kanu and Rita Trichur, to the Empire Club of Canada’s virtual stage. You will hear more about them shortly, and you can find their full bios on the page below the video player on your screen. Before we before we get to hear from the panel, I would like to invite Doreen Lilienfeld, Partner, Shearman & Sterling LLC to deliver some opening remarks. Doreen, welcome, and over to you.
Doreen Lilienfeld, Partner, Shearman & Sterling LLC
Thank you, Kelly, and welcome, everyone. We're so glad that you've joined us today for the Empire Club of Canada's celebration of International Women's Day. I'm Doreen Lilienfeld, as Kelly explained. I'm the Global Compensation, Governance, and Advisory Practice Group Leader at Shearman & Sterling, and it's my honour to welcome this esteemed panel. Today, we are joined by several women who were the driving forces behind some of the most transformative moves in Canadian business and finance in 2021, including Lori-Ann Beausoleil, retired Deals and Advisory Partner from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sarah Jordan, the Chief Executive Officer of Mastermind Toys, and Vanessa Kanu, the Chief Financial Officer of TELUS International, along with our moderator today, Rita Trichur, the Senior Business Writer and columnist at The Globe and Mail. Thank you all for participating today. Their accomplishments are just too legion for me to mention in the time allowed, but as Kelly mentioned, their biographical information is located below the video player in your virtual event platform. We at Shearman & Sterling are so pleased today, to be part of this event. In this past year, we had the privilege of advising TELUS International on its transformational IPO, and US listing. Shearman & Sterling remains dedicated to celebrating women's achievements in the business world. Today, we have the opportunity to hear directly from the women behind the biggest tech IPO in TSX history, the acquisition of one of Canada's most innovative exchanges, and the strategic transformation of Canada's largest specialty toy and bookstore. So, without any further ado, I'd like to welcome Rita, Lori-Ann, Sarah and Vanessa, and now over to you Rita, to get us started.
Rita Trichur, Senior Business Writer and Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Thank you, Doreen. Good afternoon, everyone. As you heard, I'm Rita Trichur. I'm a Senior Business Writer and Columnist with The Globe and Mail. I am very pleased to be your moderator for today's important discussion. We have a great panel for you today, and we're going to jump right into questions, because there's a lot of ground to cover. So, for each of the panelists, I want you all to kind of dive into this one. Each of you are leaders in male-dominated industries. Tell us what it was like for you at the outset of your career. What was it like for you back then, and what was it like for women? Let's go into this order: Vanessa, Sara, and then Lori-Ann.
Vanessa Kanu, Chief Financial Officer, TELUS International
Well, thank you, Rita. That's a great question. So, when I first joined the workforce immediately after I graduated, there were a lot of women. There were a lot, I don't remember what the precise ratio was at the time, but there were a lot of women in my entrance year as an articling student at PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Edmonton, Alberta, no less. We may not have been perfectly balanced, but we probably would have been close. So, I would say, Rita, going in, it was a fairly comfortable environment, but over the years, the leakage became obvious, and the women started to disappear, especially as the positions got higher and higher. And the firm, in those days, offered flexibility, flexible work schedules and the like, and it was often women who took those flexible work schedules to balance work and home life. And as supportive as the firm was, even back then, it was rare to see a Partner take on a flexible work schedule. And so, while we all applauded the optionality of that the firm offered all of us back then, in the late ‘90s, most of the women that I knew, knew or at least perceived that it would affect your career progression. And so, it was a bit of a stigma, you know, even back then as I was sort of starting up my career, and I think that's that phenomenon probably continues to this day.
Sarah Jordan, CEO, Mastermind Toys
I started my career in strategy consulting, and when I did that, there was no female partners in Canada. One of the things that I remember when I started in consulting, was the great opportunity to be exposed to a whole host of industries, and a whole different type of work; and what I also got exposed to be a whole host of different leaders. And so, for me, what I remember about my early days in my career, was a feedback-rich environment, where there were a few women, but what was really focused on was what were your strengths, and what your areas for development were. And what I took away from the early days of my career, not only about what my strengths were, so that I could play to my passions later in my career, I also learned that there was two types of leaders I would work for: leaders that believed in me, or leaders who had asked me to prove myself, and that was a lifelong lesson that I took through my career, and as you can appreciate, most of those leaders were male. And the ones who believed in me, believed in how I lead, how I showed up, what I looked like, what I could contribute. And those who asked me to prove myself put barriers, didn't allow the flexibility, didn't sponsor and mentor women. So, for me, it was a real opportunity to learn what great leadership looks like, which served me well as I transformed Mastermind Toys.
To you, Lori-Ann.
Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Retired Deals and Advisory Partner, PricewaterhouseCooper
Thank you, and happy International Day, everybody. Well, clearly, they left the oldest to the last. So, my beginnings was very different in 1986, when I entered the doors of a professional accounting firm, which was Coopers & Lybrand at the time. Seventy-five new recruits started that year—unfortunately, that was before computers, so there was a lot of manual labour at the time—and only five women. And I can assure you, diversity wasn't even a topic at the time, because there was no diversity. So, what can I say about my career, my journey, as I showed up every day as the genuine and authentic Lori. Yes, I was in that time and era where women did not wear pant suits; I wore pantsuits. I walked into the boardrooms of all my clients with a smile on my face, and I did the best job I could, and at some point in time, I think I tried to even be better than I possibly could, and surrounded myself with a remarkable team. I have so many firsts at PWC. I could go on and on and on, but imagine as a partner, first female partner to go on maternity leave, I could fill up the whole hour on that wonderful experience and journey. But once again, so how did I survive in that environment, male-dominated, and not a lot of diversity. Simply once again, doing the best I could, but always had wonderful mentorship and coaching. So, part of my success at PwC, was I was blessed with some great male partners who took me under their wing, and stood me up for success. And today on International Women's Day, that's what we have to do for this next generation of women. Let's stand them up, pull them up and push them up, so we don't have to talk about the glass ceiling, or any of the other things that were obstacles during my career.
I knew we were going to get a lot of real talk on this panel, and I'm sure the audience really appreciates your candour, so this is this is fantastic. I want to talk a little bit about each of your own individual leadership styles. You know, did you emulate your male colleagues, or did you carve your own path? Did you feel pressure to check your emotions at the door? Lori-Ann, why don't we start with you on this one?
Sure. So, for me, I have to say my leadership style evolved. I have to say, at the very beginning, I probably didn't have the competence that I have today. It's hard when you're the only one. So, you know, you always feel like you have to be exceptional, and try and prove yourself. But what I will tell you as I finished the last part of my career, my style was very much inclusive. And I actually worked side by side with the team. They said partners usually don't work side by side, but I can't ask somebody to do something that I won't do. So, I think my style really became a leader by example. If we say work hard, I am working hard, I'm in the trenches along with the team. But also, the most important thing that I do, and continue to do even post PwC, is coaching and mentorship. I wouldn't be on this panel if I didn't have mentors and coaches. And my leadership style is very focused on helping that next generation up and through the door, because I can only get them to the door, but that mentorship and coaching can get them through the door. So, I'd say that's how my leadership style has evolved. I must say at the beginning, I did somewhat, perhaps, follow some of the male styles, because I was known as a bull in a china shop. I'm like, how can I be a bull in a china shop? But that's what they said, and I think I was very aggressive, because I wanted to make sure that I continued to have a seat at the table. I didn't want to be at the children’s table, but I wanted to be at the big boys’ table. So, I think at the beginning, my style was very aggressive, and as I learned and got more confident in Lori, I see that I became more of the genuine Lori, wanting to create a team of diverse team members, but more importantly, really focused on that next generation, which was later on in my career.
That's great. Authenticity is so important when it comes to leadership. Sarah, what about you? What is what's your individual leadership style?
Three words Rita: bold, passionate and authentic. Like Lori, I think I had to find my way through my career, but one of the real defining moments for me was leading Mastermind Toys through the pandemic. I can tell you, one of the great things that came out of the pandemic—and I recognize it's a humanitarian crisis—is that while Canadians reinvented the way they work, live, learn and play, leadership was also being invented, reinvented. We've often seen leaders get asked to check their emotions at the door, and not to lead with that empathy, and I can tell you, I had the ultimate privilege of leading an organization through a pandemic, when there was no playbook. And I remember the heaviness of the situation two years ago, closing our doors before the government mandate, because we serve kids, grandparents, parents, and those are our employees too. And I remember when we closed our doors, what I led with was courage and strength, empathy and compassion, traits that, through my career, weren’t always asked to be shown up. And I think the great thing about the pandemic, and seeing the diverse leadership style emerge, is that people are looking for a leader to lead them through the pandemic, not to manage them. And I think there's a real moment now for authentic leaders. For women, specifically, we're often asked not to show our emotion, but it leads to innovation, it leads to business results, and it leads to better teams. So, my leadership style, bold, passionate, authentic, is living in full colour today, and I really try to show that to my team, to bring their true selves to work. And like Lori-Ann, it's been an evolution for me, and there's been days when I've been muted, but what I've learned is that I'm at my best when I’m myself, and I try to create a diverse team around me, and conditions around me, so that others can bring their best selves to work.
That's wonderful. Vanessa.
So, like my two great colleagues here, it definitely took me a while to get comfortable in my own skin, I've always been confident, I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who always encouraged me to speak my mind. So, shyness was never an issue for me, per se, but it took me a really long time, I would say, to get comfortable in my skin as a leader. And, like Lori just articulated, you know, in those days, the traditional leadership style was very much command and control. So, even the women, as few as they were, exhibited a bit of a command-and-control style, probably because that's what we all saw around us. But that style was never really me. I was always opinionated, as I said, but command-and-control was never really my style, so I'd never quite felt comfortable with that style of leadership. And then I was fortunate enough to work with a female CEO, who came to the table with a very collaborative style. And it was like, wow, I can show up to the table like she does, and not worry about being judged about being too soft. And so, now fast forward many years later, today, I have the privilege to work with a male CEO, who I would describe as an empathetic leader, and very much leads with a people-first mentality at TELUS International, and, as Sarah alluded to, the research these days actually shows that empathy is one of the key traits of successful leaders. So, I've learned from all of this, and I'm now much more comfortable just being who I am as a leader myself, but it just goes to show how representation matters, from the old command and control style of leadership to now being able to show up as who you are. Being able and comfortable to show your empathetic side, and your caring side, and actually having data to support that, that actually leads to positive outcomes for organizations.
I think you all have just helped so many women, by being so honest about the fact that you had to grow comfortable as leaders, and learn how to be authentic, and kind of push back against the notions of what a good leader is. And in terms of, you know, checking your emotions at the door, this is great. Empathy is so important, we've learned that throughout the pandemic. I want to hear a little bit more about the defining moments in your career with respect to M&A, transformations, IPOs, all this wonderful capital markets activity. What did you learn from these experiences? And Vanessa, I want to start with you.
Thanks, Rita. So, I had the privilege last year of helping to lead the largest technology IPO in TSX history. We certainly did not set out to accomplish that, but we're super proud of what we're able to do together as a team. So, I was new to the organization, I'd only been with a company for a few months, and had to rapidly learn the business, and build a financial model that we could speak credibly about, to the investment community. And it was during the pandemic—it was actually kind of at the height of the pandemic that we were doing all of this—I had not even met any of my colleagues in person at that time, frankly, not even my own team in person at that time. But it was truly phenomenal. The team was really, really great, and we got it done. But I learned a lot of things. I learned resilience; I learned to trust my instincts, when something didn't make sense, I followed my gut and I dug into it; I learned to see things from the investor’s perspective, not just management's perspective. And you know, it's quite interesting, many of the things that I myself initially wanted to seek clarity about, turned out to be the very things that investors and analysts also wanted to understand deeper, which goes to show you know, follow your instincts. Don't dismiss the probing questions in your head, lean into them. Go deeper for the answers, and by so doing, you often end up with a better work product out of it. So, very challenging times, but as they always say, out of challenges come the most rewarding experiences. And certainly, I'm privileged enough to say that that was my case as well.
Thanks, Rita. My specialty is in customer brand and digital transformation. And so, I joined Mastermind Toys, which is the nation's largest specialty toy and book retailer, that's private equity-owned, Canadian owned and operated, in January of 2020. What I can tell you about the transformation over the last two years is that, while it is exceptional to have expertise coming in, what you need is the best team around you, and the cultural transformation is key. I have been so inspired during the pandemic, as the Mastermind Toys team have reinvented our business. We shut down our stores with no lifeline, no contactless curbside, a website that was severely lagging the industry, at the time 25% of toys were purchased online, ours was less than 2%. And while it's great to have a digital transformation, or customer experience, or a phenomenal brand that you can talk to—and we're a purpose-driven organization, we deeply believe that play is kids’ work—what was really necessary to come out of the pandemic stronger was our people. And so, I had the ultimate privilege of leading a cultural transformation, where I asked the Mastermind Toys team from our head office, which is affectionately known as “Play HQ,” to our warehouse, to our stores, to join me. To come out of the pandemic stronger by co-creating, by sharing insights, by being toy trend-spotters coast-to-coast. And it's been unbelievable to see people show up to Mastermind Toys every day, while they're caring for their kids, caring for their elderly parents, reinventing their lives through the pandemic. I have to tell you, being a CEO was also like being the Chief Communications Officer, trying to inspire people through hybrid working, trying to inspire people, as our stores were closed for 18 months straight over a 24-month period, including every major holiday, inclusive of my first holiday as the CEO of a toy store. But what I learned in this transformation was to be an authentic leader. To lead people through, by asking them to show up every day as their best selves, but also asking them for innovation, and for ideas. During one of our town halls coast-to-coast, I ended up reading a story called Rosie Revere, Engineer, which is my favourite children's book. And the reason why I read this book was because it inspired people to fail, and to fail fast, but to come together as a team. So, I've learned that, even in private equity, and intense moments in capital markets, where results matter, or where speed matters, what I've learned is that people make the difference. And during the pandemic, I've learned that leadership matters. You need to build the best team around you, but you need to inspire them, because they will over-deliver when they believe in the purpose. And so, for Mastermind, we went back to our roots from 1984, to really be, not a toy store, but to be an organization that believes in inspiring generations of lifelong learners, through the power of play.
Sarah, your energy is infectious, this is wonderful. Lori-Ann, what would you say is your defining moment, or one of your defining moments in your career, and what did you learn from that experience?
So, what I learned is the word innovation. And what I didn't realize is, innovative creativity is actually an attribute in capital markets, deals and transactions, that was going to be part of this success, if I can use that language. So, I'm going to just talk about NEO for a moment, and this amazing transaction that hopefully will be approved shortly by the Securities Commission—no cheerleading or advocacy on my behalf—but it is amazing, why Lori Beausoleil, and why NEO? I went on there because I am attracted to organizations that celebrate innovation, and so, going on the board, and being part of this amazing transaction, is bringing an alternative to the capital market community, on an exchange that is based on innovation. We're taking the chances on some of those higher risk, I'm going to call it segments. So the success, for me, was my natural curiosity and interest in innovation. I can actually play a role as part of the board of NEO, as we guide and govern over this particular transaction. So, I'd say for me, the key ingredient that I did not appreciate perhaps during all of my career, was the criticality of innovation. And now I'm part of NEO Exchange, that is celebrating innovation, and also leadership. The other thing is, we talked about our leadership style, but we didn't talk about being a leader. So, I think the other part in the capital markets, and in the deals and M&A space, is you want to be the leader, you want to be first. So, to be able to be first, you've got to have something that's different. And generally, guess what we come back to? Something that's innovative, something that is going to give a different experience, a different return on the investment. So, for me, I would say my “AHA moment,” was appreciating the attributes that led to success in M&A, capital markets, and deals, which is innovation, confidence, and leaders. Be the first; don't follow.
Okay, that's, that's fantastic. Okay, the pandemic has shone a very unflattering light on systemic inequities in our society, inequities that women face, that Black, Indigenous, people of colour face. You know, we've come somewhat of a distance, I'd say, but is this really the moment of change for women, and other diverse candidates? What do you still see as the barriers that these various groups face in the workplace? And Sarah, I want you to go first of this one.
Happy to, Rita; and as Lori said, Happy International Women's Day. The theme for this year 2022 is “Break the Bias.” And so, for me, Rita, I'd love to share what I've learned. The moment has to be now for change, and I think the pandemic has showcased that diverse leadership, diverse teams, are necessary for some of the words that Lori and Vanessa just mentioned: innovation, impact, value, but also empathy, and creating purpose-driven economies and leaders. So, I'd like to talk about a few biases that I faced, that I would encourage the audience to think about: do you bring these to work with you? I often don't talk about being a working parent, and you'll notice the words that I used, I didn't say working mom, I said working parent, because the first bias that I want to talk about is the assumption that your career ambitions evaporate when you become a parent. For me, my world exploded into technicolour with the arrival of my children, but I did not lose my ambition for a fulfilling career. And I think one thing that we need to have a bias, or break the bias on, is making assumptions about what women, or working parents want, as they navigate the different phases of their life.
The second piece I'll talk about is being a working parent. I am a better leader because I am a working parent. Nothing has taught me more patience, and letting go of things that I can't control, all great attributes in capital markets, like my children. And I think it's really important that we recognize working parents, and especially working moms, are amazing leaders that bring empathy. And as Vanessa said, the research is there. The research is there, that empathy, and empathetic leaders drive better results, and build better teams. And then finally, the bias that I think we all need to make sure that we're tackling, is that strong leaders don't show emotion. We should be inviting them to share emotion, and to be themselves, and to be human, and to Lori's point, to be leaders. If we want to have innovative companies, we need leaders who are willing to lead authentically. And so, the biases around being a working parent, around losing your career ambition, on not being a great leader, need to be busted, and we need to do it in an environment where we're reinventing the way we work. Hybrid work will allow us to see leaders for who they really are, which is human. And hopefully, this flexibility, and the requirements to show up differently at work, will allow us to bust some of those myths.
Amen to all of that. It took everything in me not to start cheering after every word that you just spoke. And Vanessa, you’re next.
I think I'm still saying amen. Sarah, I think you just spoke for all of us. But honestly, to answer your question there, Rita, I mean, the pandemic has, without a doubt, hit women in certain communities much more severely. I do think it's a moment of change. I mean, so much has happened in the last couple of years, you know, from the #metoo movement, to George Floyd, and sadly, many others, including here in Canada. The fact that these inequalities have gone on for so long, I think people have generally just had enough. And on the gender front, you know, I just could not agree more, or really, frankly, add a lot more to what Sarah just articulated. I think, you know, the fact that the gender agenda has been on corporate agendas for so long, but still we've made such little progress, is mind-boggling. I mean, I was reading some statistics the other day where we've got in the United States only 41 out of the US Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO; it's even worse in Canada. We've got a long way to go, so I think all of this has come together where people are demanding change, investors are demanding change, investors are looking at board diversity, management teams’ diversity. They're asking the questions, they don't want taglines anymore, they want to see the numbers, right? So, I really do think that we are at that inflection point where society generally has had enough, and they want to see progress on this front, but we have a lot to do to get there. We need to create the conditions to get there, and it starts with everything from how we recruit, how we get more balanced in our in our recruiting pipeline, to how we support women in the workplace, childcare, mentorship programs, all the things that we need to do to make women in the workplace really do feel valued, to continue their careers and continue to rise as they as they may choose to do so, based on their own individual aspirations.
Okay. Lori-Ann, over to you, is this the moment of change? Is this going to be the time for women?
This is the moment for change, and the reason why is because everybody is now listening. But we do have a challenge is a lot of us haven’t educated corporate Canada on what it takes to be diverse, and I'm going to say both gender and race, because you see the cultural barriers that corporate Canada may not be aware of, that we grow up with in certain communities. There are certain communities where the woman is not given an education, or if they do have an education, their expectations are different. And so, they need a different type of support in that workforce, in order for them to blossom and succeed. So, we're at this really crazy opportunity for change, but there's so much learning to ensure that we actually take this change and make it successful. So, we have gender challenges that are coming from culture, and family beliefs. Despite that, what's happening in corporate Canada, and how do we encourage and support those young women who are going to be the first in their family to get an education, and to, I'm going to say, blow up the concrete ceiling. Then you've got diversity. So, how do you ensure your teams have diversity, not just gender, but with race and ethnicity? And you said, but here's another challenge, is for those individuals that are out there today listening to this, you also have to raise your hand. Because you see, the job is not going to come to you necessarily. Sometimes you have to raise your hand and say, “please, I am interested; I may not have all the skills, but I am here to give you 150% so that I can be successful in whatever that success definition looks like,” And that's individual as well, because the other thing that we have to be careful with data and statistics, is there are individuals that are part of that data, and not all individuals are the same, hence the Webster Dictionary definition of an individual. So, let's celebrate change. Let's keep our eyes and ears open. And let's support the diversity journey, because it's a journey, and we're not quite there yet.
Absolutely. Okay. So, for people in the audience, I just want to remind you that you can submit your questions in the box below your viewer, please do that, because we're going to get your questions in about seven minutes time, I want to make sure we have time for audience questions. Okay, so we've talked a bit about what the problem is, in terms of what barriers remain for women and diverse candidates in the in the workplace, but let's start to talk about solutions, because I can tell all three of you are solution-minded. Vanessa, starting with you, what are some of the practical steps that companies can take to actually create diverse and inclusive workplaces?
I think it kind of goes back to some of the points we just mentioned. There's a lot of things, and for me, it starts with even recruiting, and going back to my earlier points about recruiting in a in a more balanced fashion. And for corporations, to expand the scope of where they're recruiting from, and what profile of candidates they're recruiting from. If we each only recruit from our narrow networks, well, we're probably not going to get a lot of diversity. And so, expanding that pool, it means from a recruiting perspective, opening our minds about the talent base that is out there, I think you know, it’s a critical first step. But once women or other diverse team members join the organization, then what? Because what we don't want to do is have them join the organization and start to retreat, because they still feel like they don't belong. So, that's why it's not only diversity, but also inclusiveness, to make sure that once you actually do get the more diverse team member base, you're able to retain them, and really, truly benefit from all of the benefits that we all know that diversity has to offer. So, how do we support them in the workplace? How do we ensure the workplace is a safe environment for young women, other ethnic minorities, where they feel supported, where they feel they can grow, where they feel they've got career, the career aspirations to support? And all of those things, I think, will help to ensure that this pipeline issue not only gets solved at the recruiting stage, but also as people progress up the career ladder. But I think it goes also back to, we started to talk a little bit about childcare, and unfortunately, as it is today, the vast majority of home responsibilities still sit with women. So, ensuring that our women at work feel supported in terms of managing what happens at work, but also giving them the flexibility to manage what happens at home as well, because a lot of the times they are wearing the hat as it pertains to that. So, perhaps I'll pause there, and let my colleagues jump in. I think I'm just so passionate about this topic, there's so much that organizations can be doing. But from my perspective, it starts from recruiting, to once the team members are in place, and career progression, and supporting them overall, for their end-to-end life responsibilities.
Sarah, what about you? I mean, what are your thoughts on strategies, you know, everything from recruitment, succession planning. I'm also curious on your take on whether we should be having targets that are voluntary, or quotas?
Thanks, Rita, and I agree with everything Vanessa shared. What I will say is when I joined Mastermind Toys, the C-Suite and the leadership team was 100% male. And I took it as my responsibility, and will do so for the rest of my career, to change that. And we did not have quotas Rita, but within the first 90 days of being CEO of Mastermind Toys, 65%—we went from zero to 65% of the leadership team is female. I recognize that's one form of diversity, but with P&L responsibility as well. And it's not because there was a quota, it's because they were the right person for the job. I'll share with what Vanessa said, you have to expand your horizon, and where you're finding the talent from. You have to be specific about what you're looking for, but you have to cast the net wide, and you can't just look into your own networks. But I believe that it has to be toned from the top. It was my mission and my mandate to have a diverse leadership team. And as I said, there was no quota, but it is the right candidates for the job. I would also say that Vanessa spoke a lot about what the government could do, or what corporations can do, but I'd like to just share a little bit about what I think you can do. So, I'd love, if you have a piece of paper in front of you, I want you to write down the number three, three times. Today, I want you to reach out to three women who have made a difference. I want you to send a note to their boss or their board on their behalf, highlighting who they are, and what they bring to the table. So, that's the thing I want you to do today. This week, I want you to invite three women or diverse leaders to the table. I want you to pull up a chair, either virtually or physically, so that they have an opportunity to present their own work, to comment, to bring innovation to the table. Okay, so, we've got a theme here: today, this week, now this month, here's the last three. I want you to promote three women or diverse leaders, I want you to advocate for them. It is no longer enough to be a mentor, you must be a sponsor. And for the next year, for the next 12 months, I want you to do those three things. Today: three notes sent for high potential women. This week: three women brought to the table. This month: three women promoted or advocated for. And hopefully, Rita, that will change what our organizations look like, because we need to take action on this. And we have waited too long for quotas, or investors, or mission statements to include this. This requires all of us to play a role in corporate Canada.
Corporate Canada, you have your marching orders. Lori-Ann, I want you to jump in now to talk about solutions.
Absolutely Rita. By the way, rah, rah! I’m going to come up with three solutions, to keep with the theme of three. Everything that was just said, will only work if we change our culture to be inclusive. Because in order for those three, three and three to work, my organization has to want that to work. I don't like tokenism, because I don't believe that is sustainable. So, solution number one, let's look long and hard about our culture. Is it genuinely open? And if not, how are we going to change it to be an open and inclusive culture? That's solution number one. Solution number two, is you have to provide an environment to allow diversity to succeed. And you say, “well, wait a minute, Lori, how is that different from culture?” I'm talking training, education, mentorship, and coaching. Diverse candidates need coaching and mentorship a little bit different, that we haven't yet adapted our programs to. And I know, before I left at PwC, we’re working really hard on this because that is critical for our success. And for all of those boards that I sit, in number three, is board diversity is critical. So, as we're getting pressure from the investment community to be diverse, let's pause. So, we've got a culture that's inclusive, we got the programs to support diversity, so therefore, we’ve got to make sure our board is diverse. We have to drive board diversity, because guess what? Everything that we've talked about today will not be successful, if there aren’t people at that boardroom table, encouraging the CEO and management for change; cultural change, training and education change, recruitment, retention and succession. That would be my three solutions. It's fantastic. Number three for my colleague—I loved it, by the way.
QUESTION & ANSWER
And you're very much correct, this has become a corporate governance issue, and the tone from the top, that really matters. Okay, we're gonna go to audience questions now, and we have a question from Cheryl, who asks, as you assume new positions, how did you handle exposing the need to learn more in required areas, without feeling like you were demeaning your position, or harming perceptions of your capabilities? That's a great question. Okay. Vanessa, you go first.
I think it's all about authenticity, which is a word you've heard a lot today. Be yourself, be authentic, be humble. I read a quote, actually, I don't know who to attribute it to, but it went something—and I'm going to get it wrong, but it went something like this: if you're learning, you're growing, if you're not growing, you're dying. That was the quote. And I thought, that is an excellent quote, I think it may or may have actually been Ray Kroc who said it. But think about it, if you're learning, you're growing, and when you're not growing, you're dying. But who doesn't want to grow? So, learning is a key part of life, whether you're in the corporate world, you're with governments, you're with not-for-profit, whatever you choose to do with your career, frankly, even as individuals, right. So, at any point in our lives, whether it's taking on a new role, or anything else, I don't think we should be ashamed of the desire to learn. That, frankly, sets us up for success in any given role, with any given transition, and it keeps us growing. I don't know about the rest of you, but I want to be green, I want to be growing, and I'm not ready to give up on that quite yet.
Okay. Sarah, did you want to add to that?
I'll just briefly share that, for me, I show up every day to try and be a lifelong learner. And so, that deep curiosity, I think, is a way to authentically show up. I pride myself on building the best team around me, and that means that I'm not going to be the expert on everything, and I'm unafraid of being inquisitive and continuing to grow. What I would say is also, leaders need to continue to grow and develop like what you said, Vanessa. And it's really important that, as leaders, you're uncomfortable, because that means that you're growing, and you're pushing yourself. And so, the expectation of sharing with your team that you want to be a lifelong learner, why you're being inquisitive, what you don't know—I joined Mastermind Toys, having never held a position in retail, having never been a CEO. This is my first rodeo, and I led it all through a pandemic, which there was no playbook for, and being a lifelong learner, being curious, asking others for input every day before we closed our stores, I would huddle with everyone in the organization above a certain level. And everyone was asked to leave their expertise at the door, because there was no way to manage through this. There was no pandemic, and so, it was really about showing humility around what we don't know. And maybe that's just a moment that I grew up with that I will forever take with me, but I think you can have your blinders on if you assume expertise, or you try to showcase that. As a leader, your job isn't to have all the answers, it’s to build a team around you that will innovate through the trickiest situations, but also transform in moments when you need to. And so, I think you want to build a team and build a culture that learning is expected, and encouraged.
Excellent. There's no such thing as stupid questions. Okay, I want to get as many audience questions in as possible. So, Lori-Ann I have one for you from Gail who asked, did you always plan to be in a leadership role, or is it something that just happened? Can you share some advice for women who hadn't planned on taking a leadership role, but have found themselves in one?
Fantastic question, and thanks for asking it, because it gives me a chance to share with, I think a key word that my dad would say to myself and my three sisters, I'm one of four girls: you can be anything you want to be. So, I did not set out to be a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I was actually happy to get my CPA, I was one of these people that you know, qualified and quit, and we used to call it q-squared—I know aging myself—back in the day. So, but people were promoting me because they saw a talent. So, I had to go back and say, what are they seeing that I'm not confident yet to see in myself. So, what I share with you is, never put any boundaries on what you can do, because you can do whatever you want to do, because that's who you are, and you will make sure you get there. When I started getting into certain leadership roles, I was getting there because other people saw something in me. And then later on in my career, I was confident enough to be able to accept them, and hopefully grow, and make a difference in the role that I had. So, sometimes when you find yourself in these leadership roles and you never thought you would ever be there? That's because other people see things in you. Celebrate that, and then figure out what you want to do, and continue that growth trajectory.
That's fantastic advice. Don't be afraid to take up space, if you're a leader. Okay. And Sarah, I’ve got another question from the audience. What is your advice, if your leadership doesn't think change is needed, and doesn't support diversity efforts beyond the lowest hanging fruit? Great question.
Yeah, I mean, I think it's unfortunate if leaders don't see the value in it, because the tone from the top, whether it's the C-Suite or the board, is so important. If you find yourself in a position where, unfortunately, that tone isn't there to be supportive of it, I think the biggest thing that you can do is articulate and showcase that diversity matters. For me, at Mastermind Toys, one of the things that I started recognizing was that small wins, and celebrating small wins, matters. So, I'd like to believe that in your role today, you can showcase why that's important, and start celebrating those wins, and build from that. Momentum matters, and so, don't look at what's in front of you as insurmountable, or a big mountain. And we are on a journey, and the mountain is still there—there are more CEOs in Canada named Michael than there are females. But it's really important that I think that, from your position, you can pick something small, that can gain attention and momentum. It’s irrefutable what diversity brings to the table. The stats are there, the articles are there, the investors are asking for it, and I think it's just a moment of time that if leaders don't embrace it, you'll find yourself working for another leader. So, best to do your own change from wherever you sit, and make it happen, and start it now.
Yeah, I mean, it seems silly that people would have to be convinced in this day and age, but here we are. Okay. I have a question for Vanessa. If you could go back in time, what is the best advice you would give to your younger self?
Wow. I would say own it. Really, really own it. Don't make apologies to others, or frankly, even to yourself. There was a lot of pressure on women, particularly young women. There's a lot of comparison, we are a society of comparisons. As humans we compare ourselves to others, but as women, we have a really bad habit of comparing ourselves to others. And in doing those comparisons, that brings doubt, that brings fear, that brings indecision, that brings “what's wrong with me?” So, there's nothing wrong with you. You know, I would say, get clear on what you want, and it's okay if that takes a long time to get clear on what you want, but once you've decided, really own it. Don't judge yourself harshly, and just remember that I would say, lastly, there are seasons of life. So, you can't hit it out of the park in every single quadrant of your life at the exact same time, there will be ebbs and flows. There are years when you'll do really well in certain areas, and years when you do better in other areas, but try not to judge yourself too harshly, and own it. You'll be okay.
I love that. Own it. Okay. We only have time for one more question, because we have less than two minutes left. So, Lori-Ann, I'm going to give this one to you. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your career, and how did you turn it into an opportunity? I love this.
It's a great question. The biggest obstacle was me. Believe it or not, I never could imagine a Black woman being a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. I just never thought it could happen. Imagine, we're going way back, now—I hate to age myself continuously—so I think I was a bit of an obstacle, because as I was being pushed, I wasn't appreciating the push. So, I would say the biggest barrier for me was, I didn't have the confidence to do what I do now. So, if you're like me, and you are your own worst enemy, pause and say, why is that? Go deep, because others see things, and push yourself forward. The other barriers, or just one other barrier that I did have, which I totally overcame, was I didn't see anybody like me. So, people talk about that, oh, I don't see another woman, I don't see any visible minorities. So, all I'm going to say to you is: be the first. Obliterate that concrete ceiling, and be the first. So, that's another barrier. Don't let that be a barrier, let that drive you for success. And then bring everybody along with you, with an open, innovative, creative, and inclusive mindset.
Okay, I got a note from the organizers who said we have an extra five minutes, because it looks like our audience is really engaged. Maybe I will put the same question to Sarah and to Vanessa as well. What is the biggest obstacle that you have faced in your career, and then how did you turn it into an opportunity? Sarah, why don't you go first?
I have to say Lori was right on, and I would have said myself, and so I will say that, for me, I think the other is recognizing moments when you're not playing to your passions and strengths. One of the obstacles that I faced was walking away from something. We've all been in moments where we don't see the next opportunity. We try to be loyal, we try to push forward on that, and the lesson that I learned was, you need to be running towards something, not away from something, and having the courage to run towards the next opportunity, when the moment that you're in isn't the right conditions for success. And I think that was a key barrier that I learned to overcome, was recognizing those moments when you are no longer playing to your strengths. That being said, I think it's also important that you're not always going to be in your dream job, you're not always going to have the conditions for success, but there's still something that you can learn from that opportunity. And so, the other tagline I take with myself is: grass is greener where you water it. And sometimes even though we'd love change to be faster, we'd love to see diversity, accelerate and not look like what it is today, and be further along on the journey, you have a role to play in the conditions where you are today, which is, water that grass and make it green, because you can make a difference.
And Vanessa, we want you to weigh in on this too. I mean, what's an obstacle that you overcame? How did you turn it into an opportunity, and just so I can get a little flavour of another audience question in here, you know, which is about finding your voice. What's your advice on that?
So, I was—and by the way, the responses from Lori and Sarah spot on. We really are often our biggest obstacles, we really, truly are. And that was an amazing answer, Lori. and I think oftentimes, when we dig deep, we actually find that the root cause is ourselves, right? Because we perceive all of these issues, and so we shrink back. The best piece of advice I ever got was actually from my mother, who said, “you can focus on the challenges and the obstacles, or you can focus on the opportunities.” And it sounds very simple, but it was such an eye opener. And so, getting up every morning and not walking into work thinking, “I'm a minority woman, oh my God, how hard is it going to be for me today?” I mean, you just can't do that, because if you do that, you're going to cripple yourself. Focus on what you can do, what you can change, and get the job done to the best that you possibly can, and by so doing, you'll continue to make a difference, and as Lori said, you can bring others along with you. That is the task at hand. And I don't know if I have much more to add to that, because I think my colleagues said it so very well, but that indeed, my friends and colleagues, is the task that we all have to continuously work towards.
I love how you said bring along others with you, pull them up behind you. That's great. And every workplace you can find your people, I think that's a key lesson that we've taken away from today. Okay, I'm going to thank Vanessa, Sarah, and Lori-Ann, for their wonderful and inspiring comments today. I am feeling so energized. It was such a pleasure to talk to all of you, and I'm going to hand it back to Kelly now. Thank you.
Thanks, Rita. And thanks so much to our panelists. Energising, inspiring, impactful, you know, I could spend at least a few minutes just pulling out adjectives of how I'm feeling after having had the opportunity to hear that discussion. I know this came up in the conversation around representation on boards, and although the Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization, and not a corporate board, I do think it's really important that we ourselves look at our own work that we have been doing, to build an inclusive and diverse board. And I'm pleased to share that, you know, at this point, in terms of the Empire Club of Canada, we are at 40% of our board directors are women, and we continue to do a lot of work to build more diversity across many facets on the board. And I think also for me, you know, as we've approached International Women's Day this year, this season, as the President of the Empire Club of Canada, I was also reflecting on the fact that I'm just the 13th woman to be President in the Empire Club of Canada, in 118 years. So, as the Club has continued to evolve with Canadian society, I think it's clear that we continue to have work to do in this area, to continue to create space for women to come forward, to take leadership opportunities, both in the volunteer world, and in their professional careers as well. So, I thought it was important to share that, because it's always good to be transparent about where your own organization is at, and the work that we still have to do, and recognize that we need to do, to move forward. I would like to now take the opportunity to welcome Sonal Doshi, Managing Director and Head, Canadian Financial Sponsors, Investment Banking at TD Securities, to deliver some appreciation remarks. Sonal, big welcome, and over to you.
Note of Appreciation by Sonal Doshi, Managing Director and Head, Canadian Financial Sponsors, Investment Banking at TD Securities
Well, thank you. Where do I start? What a dynamic and engaging conversation. I hope you all feel inspired, because I certainly do. It's been a pleasure to be here, and on behalf of TD Securities, I'd like to sincerely thank our moderator Rita Trichur, our speakers Lori-Ann Beausoleil, Sarah Jordan, Vanessa Kanu, for sharing your insights with us today. You know, it's not only inspiring to hear your personal leadership journeys, but I would add that TD Securities is strongly aligned with some of your key messages, you know, the need for companies to continue to push on improving diversity of talent, and the importance of allyship and I'm going to note Lori's words here, standing up women for success, which is what she started with. And that was why TD was so very excited to support this event. You know, we have committed to those areas through various programs, and still a lot of work to do, but including TD Talent Lab, which focuses on the pipeline, which we spoke about, and provides capital markets, education, and internship programs for female high school students with diverse backgrounds. And as well, we have a Women in Leadership Allies Program that engages and educates colleagues, both women, and in particular senior men, on the inclusive role that they can play, and they should play in advancing women. So, thank you all again, for your perspectives. Again, I would just like to say what an energizing conversation. And with that I'll turn it back to you, Kelly.
Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, and thanks again to TD Securities and all of our sponsors for their support. Thank you to our guests, and everybody who joined us today, and to those who will be watching later on-demand. Our next virtual event is on March 25th, at 12 noon Eastern Time. Please join us as we welcome Jim Balsillie, Co-Founder and Chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators, and John Gruffalo, Founder and Managing Partner of Mavericks Private Equity to discuss why “Canada Needs Revived Economic Council to Thrive in the 21st Century.” More details, and complimentary registration are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. I wish you a great afternoon. Take care and stay safe.