CFC Partner Profile: Diversity is Our Strength

CFC Partner Profile: Diversity is Our Strength

Our partners at Community Foundations of Canada have published an important series of reports today about gender equality in Canada. Split into three sections, the reports do what Vital Signs reports do at the individual community foundation level, so well: leverage data to identify, analyze, and synthesize the most salient issues of the moment. As national sponsors of the Vital Signs program, we’re pleased to provide links to the reports below. As part of the launch, we also took a moment to reflect on how Leith Wheeler addresses the topic of gender equality – in our business, and in our community. 

Our job as an investment manager is to help our clients turn $1 into $2 or $3 (or more) over time. To achieve this, we need to see things differently from others – as the only way to make money as an investor is by identifying mistakes in others’ assessments of stocks or bonds, and then wading in with confidence. You know the adage: buy low, sell high.

Central to that skill – seeing what others don’t – is welcoming and promoting diverse perspectives. We challenge management teams of companies we own to achieve parity in the board room and it’s ultimately at the core of everything we do in our own firm – not only because it’s the right way to look at the world but because it yields better results for our clients. 

With respect to gender diversity in particular, this commitment takes many forms across our firm. While we are not perfect – and we know we have some distance to go to achieve our ideals – we are proud of the strides we’ve taken to build an inclusive and gender-equal workplace, as well as the difference that our partners make in supporting women’s causes in our community.

Supporting Gender Equality Through Vital Signs

Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel is proud to be the national sponsor for Community Foundations of Canada’s Vital Signs program. Vital Signs is Canada’s most extensive community-driven data program, which helps to measure the vitality of our communities and support action towards improving collective quality of life.

As a part of its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality, CFC is releasing a national Vital Signs report series on gender equality this year. The reports deal with the themes of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically Power, Peace, and Planet. The reports provide data and analysis on the state of gender equality across Canada, and explore how different dimensions of inequality intersect in people’s lives.

From a lack of representation in political and decision-making positions to increasing wage gaps, economic inequalities and staggering rates of gender-based violence, it’s clear that there is work to be done. Published today, the reports are available here: Power // Peace // Planet

Lifting Up Leith Wheeler Women

As one of Canada’s last large, independently owned investment managers, we are also unique in that we have a very broad and diverse shareholder base. Of the 99 full-time employees at the firm, 85 are shareholders and of those 85, 43 are women – a majority as of June this year.

To broaden our human resources (HR) toolkit, in 2019 our Board of Directors appointed financial services HR veteran Nola Joorisity as an Advisor. One of her focuses has been helping us identify ways to support our female partners and attract more women to the firm, a process which includes ensuring that a diverse and gender-balanced list of candidates makes every hiring long list. We also run mentorship and cross-training programs to develop our rising stars. A majority of those participants are women.

One of those mentors dedicated to supporting our female professionals is Portfolio Manager Leanne Scott, who hosts lunches, sharing her extensive experience in the industry, her personal story, and practical advice. Leanne mentors women both inside and outside the firm.

Our Chief Financial Officer Cecilia Wong also invites all of the firm’s female employees to participate in regular “Sisterhood” sessions, where staff gather to discuss common issues, and identify ways to support one another. Members also engage with outside organizations, attending Minerva’s Face of Leadership luncheon in 2019 and attending Hillary Clinton’s speech as a group.

Another recent initiative at the firm has been to recruit female summer interns from two of Vancouver’s local all-girl schools. Our 2019 intern, Emily Ma, came to us from York House School, where alumna and Leith Wheeler VP Operations & Corporate Strategy Salima Remtulla also serves as a mentor.

Supporting Women in our Community

The Leith Wheeler team is also very active in the community, volunteering our time to help organizations that support and promote women.

A number of our team helped Women in Capital Markets (WCM), Association of Women in Finance, and CFA Society Vancouver (CFA SV) collaborate to produce a panel luncheon asking, “What is Driving Change in Board Diversity?” WCM’s goal is to create solutions for the progression on equality in the Canadian finance industry through advocacy, research, programming, and recruitment. Leith Wheeler Portfolio Manager Catherine Heath co-founded the Vancouver chapter of WCM and remains active in it, including providing leadership for this event, along with Leith Wheeler’s VP Marketing (and CFA SV President) Mike Wallberg, who served as master of ceremonies.

Catherine provides mentorship for these and many other organizations, including undergraduate business students in Simon Fraser University’s “BEAM” program – where she’s actively advocated for increasing gender diversity in the program since its inception nine years ago, and recruited additional women to the advisory committee. Catherine is also a valued mentor to our Leith Wheeler colleagues.

Private Client and Foundation Associate Kirsten Nelms co-chaired SheBiz Vancouver for WCM, a free day-long event for 345 girls in grades 9 to 11 that offers unique access to leaders in STEM. By creating an engaging and educational experience SheBiz empowers young women to pursue studies and careers in Technology, Engineering, Finance and Accounting.

 Portfolio Manager Michael Schaab engaged Leith Wheeler to support client Brescia University College, Canada's only women's university, by sponsoring their BresciaLEAD Awards Gala, an event which honours inspiring women as well as organizations that are leading the way in their field. Michael and Kirsten worked with high schools in the London and greater Toronto area to bring female high school students to the event to be inspired and encouraged by the women that have walked before them. 

Toronto-based Portfolio Manager Stephanie Hickmott is an active, volunteer member of the 100 Women in Finance (100WF) Toronto Main Committee. 100WF is a global organization of finance industry professionals working together to empower women at every stage of their careers through peer engagement, education and philanthropic initiatives. In 2019 Stephanie co-chaired 100WF’s “Investing in the Next Generation” event which partnered with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award program to raise money for a new platform of tools and resources to make the program more accessible to diverse young Canadians, and to encourage young women to challenge themselves by pursuing the program’s highest level of achievement. Stephanie also served on the organizing committee for the Invictus Triumph Gala, a joint event between 100WF and True Patriot Love which raised over $200,000 in 2017 for Canadian military family service centres.

Within Leith Wheeler, Portfolio Manager Cindy Huang and Private Client and Foundation Associate Tricia Wu have co-founded a brand-new initiative at the firm: dedicated client servicing for Chinese clients. Conceived and executed by the two dynamic women, the new platform promises to better serve the diverse communities that support us. Since its 2019 inception, Cindy and Tricia have already hosted finance-focused seminars for new immigrants via S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and funded (and appeared on!) CCS’s national telethon and radiothon.

Cindy has also mentored women and girls through her participation in “I Know a Girl,” a UBC student-led organization that focuses on empowering and supporting women and she will additionally be speaking at two investment workshops this Fall for “Her Dollars & Sense” – free finance sessions in Vancouver intended to help women improve their financial literacy and increase their investment confidence. 

In Canada, we may be in the middle innings of achieving the goal of gender equality, and the financial services industry is arguably even further behind. As a firm, we continue to strive to identify new ways to support our talented female peers, and are proud of the work being done by the team to raise up young women in our communities.