How Jennifer Reynolds is working to get women to return to finance careers

The CEO of Women in Capital Markets says one way to diversify finance is to welcome back experienced professionals who currently get sidelined

Women in Capital Markets CEO Jennifer Reynolds

Women in Capital Markets CEO Jennifer Reynolds. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Around the time Jennifer Reynolds was making strides in her career in investment banking, she was also getting ready to have children. She knew balancing kids and a demanding job would be a challenge—one she decided, after careful consideration, that she was up for. Her employers, however, were not so sure. “That’s the glass ceiling right there,” says Reynolds, now the president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets (WCM), an organization that helps bolster women in the field through mentorships, award programs, training, and networking. “At that stage, you’re ready to move up but you’re facing people wondering if you’re going to stick around, or maybe you don’t want that promotion because it would add more work and more travel time. I had people taking options off the table for me.”

Today, Reynolds leads a program called Return to Bay Street, which partners financial institutes with women who have been out of the business for a few years. The goal of the WCM initiative is to tackle the “mid-career drift” too often imposed on women after taking time off to have children, while helping banks hold on to valuable talent. I sat down with Reynolds to talk about Return to Bay Street, getting girls interested in finance, and making it to the C-suite.

How did Return to Bay Street start?

The program was developed with BMO. They found they were losing women, and wondered if there was a pool of women who actually want to come back to the industry and how they could bring them back. They didn’t mean bring them back to start at the bottom and work their way up again, but give them credit for their experience and figure out how to reintegrate them back in.

How do women and banks participate in the program?

Women can apply on an ongoing basis. They have to have had some success in the capital markets industry, with a certain amount of experience, and have been out of the industry for at least two years. The program brings them back and offers them a few things: A four-month contract, minimum, which many banks extend, starting at the same level from where they left. And you get the chance to prove yourself, and the hope is that it turns into a full time job with the organization. They get $5,000 in educational funding that they can use for executive coaching, a program at Rotman [School of Management], a technical program—whatever they feel they need.

How does the program address the broader issue of getting women into executive roles?

In our industry, the glass ceiling is that mid level. Everyone thinks ‘oh, they went home to take care of their baby.’ No. 73% of mothers are working in this country. Everyone didn’t go home to take care of their baby—they’re working. They chose to go elsewhere because it becomes clear that the future isn’t so rosy for them in their organizations, so they went to a smaller organization or started their own business. They’re doing something where they don’t feel that bias all the time, where they feel ‘I’m just as likely to be promoted to the managing director job as the guy next to me.’

Often we talk about the board situation. I think we could fill 30% of Canada’s board seats with very capable, talented women this year if we wanted to. Those women exist. The harder problem is the executive seats. If we’re going to break that ceiling for women and get more women in the C-suite, it starts there at the mid level.

The number of women in finance in general is still really low. How does WCM work to change that?

It’s starts in high school. Part of the problem in our industry is we can’t get young women to come into it. They don’t know about it or they have a negative perception—it’s male-dominated, it’s locker room. So in high school, we’re just trying to keep them in math, introduce them to different careers in STEM. We do that through a conference called SheBiz we hold every year for high school girls. Once you get to university, it’s trying to get them to consider careers in business and specifically in finance. You have to plant the seed really, really early, first by introducing the idea of it, and then really making them imagine themselves being a CEO one day. That’s so important. For one, there’s a business case behind it: The fact is, no matter the industry, no matter what country, the more women you have in leadership, the better the returns, and the profitability of a company. Fundamentally, women need to have a bigger impact on the economy. The decisions that are made in all these different companies, they impact the food we just bought, what your phone looks like, what the environment is like. I think fundamentally you’ll get a different result out of our economy if you have better diversity.

What about companies? What can they do to promote diversity?

It’s about cultural change. Everybody wants a quick fix. They want me to give them some ten step program that will fix everything. It’s just not that easy. There are certain things you need to be doing, like unconscious bias training, more formal talent management.

The other thing is working at having better flexibility—for men and women. Think about it as parental leave and not just maternity leave. I’m a firm believer that men need to be able to take on more responsibility at home if we’re ever going to crack this nut.

But changing the culture takes many years and it takes a leader saying it over and over and over again. You see CEOs trying to make progress, who want to have more women in leadership. But if he doesn’t have more junior managers all the way down the chain who are working towards that goal too, you’ll never see that talent. That takes time. You can’t just do diversity training, or attend a speech. It’s something you have to think about every day as a leader. And you have to look at the numbers. I firmly believe you have to put targets on things. Nobody ever achieved anything without saying “here’s the goal post I’m looking to get past.” It’s not a quota—it’s not saying you’re going to add at all costs, even if it means putting the wrong person in the chair. It just means you’re going to measure yourself. When you measure yourself, you tend to try to deliver. Particularly if you put it on paper and put it out there that that’s something you want to achieve.

What drove you to become an advocate for women in finance?

I didn’t know anything about capital markets as a student. I just happened to run into a couple of guys who were into investing and introduced me to it and thought I’d love to do that. I wanted to go back and make sure other young women had that opportunity, so in my junior years in finance I became a mentor in the WCM a program, which pairs women in one institution with someone outside their institution. I did that for many years. Mentors can be really helpful. When I was having my children, there were no other women in my organization who were having children. I was struggling with how does one manage all this? So I found a mentor from a different institution through WCM who had children who were about ten years ahead of mine. I understand how important that is for someone’s career. I wouldn’t have had that advice if I hadn’t gone to Women in Capital Markets through this mentorship program.