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Shelagh Paul, senior vice-president, global communications at OMERS, says the pension plan offers purposeful careers where work and meaning are intertwined.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION. SOURCE FILES: Tijana Martin

Women leaders are increasingly willing to leave their jobs, and research shows that is at least in part due to a search for purpose in their working lives.

More than half of women (53 per cent) surveyed in a Gartner HR Research study from 2021 said the pandemic caused them to question the purpose at the heart of their jobs.

That shows up in multiple ways as women re-examine their careers and working lives. A 2022 report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org found that a record-high number of female executives in both Canada and the U.S. left their jobs in 2021 (10.5 per cent), citing issues such as lack of advancement prospects and lack of flexibility. In addition, 29 per cent of women considered reducing their hours or leaving the workforce.

Shelagh Paul, senior vice-president, global communications at OMERS, says the pension plan offers purposeful careers, where work and meaning are intertwined.

“Honestly, it’s one of the best parts about working at OMERS,” says Ms. Paul. “Being purpose-led attracts a certain type of person, and those certain types of people attract more of those types of people. Purpose is the thread that connects all of us at OMERS, it is the backbone of our great culture here and was thriving even before the pandemic triggered this crisis for women in the workforce.”

Building on the ‘pension promise’

Research has shown that having a strong purpose can be good for business. For example, a 2022 analysis of over 400 companies by Benevity underscored the link between purpose and employee retention: Companies saw a 52 per cent lower turnover among newer employees who participated in corporate purpose programs.

Moreover, a 2020 study published in the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance found that companies that scored high on corporate purpose metrics outperformed their low-scoring counterparts in financial performance, market valuation and shareholder value creation.

“At OMERS, we attract amazing people who are united by a strong commitment to delivering on our mission – providing security in retirement for more than half a million members across Ontario,” says Ms. Paul.

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Liz Murphy, OMERS global head of tax and senior vice-president, Oxford Finance, says that volunteering with her team provides a valuable opportunity to meaningfully connect with her colleagues.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION. SOURCE FILES: Tijana Martin

Liz Murphy, OMERS global head of tax and senior vice-president, Oxford Finance, agrees, pointing to a phrase that is ubiquitous at the organization: the “pension promise.”

“There is a focus on why we are coming to work every day, and who we are benefitting,” says Ms. Murphy. “It’s not often you work at a place where you see the direct impact of what you’re doing, and that’s what we focus on.” Indeed, OMERS supports one in every 64 jobs in Ontario.

“In addition to the built-in purpose that comes from working for our members, we have real opportunities through our investments to build economic strength and a sustainable future into the communities where we live and work around the globe,” Ms. Paul adds. “This makes us a pretty special employment destination within the financial services sector, and it is meaningful to our employees – in our 2023 employee experience survey, 94 per cent of employees told us they were proud to work at OMERS and Oxford.”

OMERS has also found a way to take the concept of purpose even further, encouraging a deep sense of connectivity for employees that goes beyond their day-to-day responsibilities.

Through Purpose@Work, a global program launched by OMERS in October 2020, the enterprise is working on active ways to engage employees in broader areas of purpose with the overall goal of creating an even better place to work and a stronger connection to the broader community.

Purpose@Work has seven areas of focus: environmental impact, inclusion and diversity, wellness, growth and development, plan advocacy, global citizenship and community giving. It is powered by a committee of business experts and a group of “champions” from offices around the world who volunteer their time to support leadership and inform and galvanize their peers to support and participate in Purpose@Work initiatives.

“There are so many different ways to engage, and [as a result] we have had quite a high level of participation from our global employee population,” says Ms. Paul.

Promoting kindness and sparking change

One key part of Purpose@Work is a global volunteer program, which mobilizes employees to give back through organized volunteering or other opportunities that are meaningful to them, including a “One Good Thing” campaign that encourages big and small acts of kindness.

“These acts of kindness could be as simple as writing a thank-you note to someone, delivering a surprise to a colleague, organizing a coat drive, raising funds for a local food bank or providing meals for a colleague who has experienced the loss of a loved one,” says Ms. Paul.

“It’s just about figuring out how to find unique ways to express kindness to each other, to those in the community and to create a global culture that shares in a spirit of giving,” she adds.

Ms. Murphy says she has done tree planting with her team and says the benefits are unparalleled. “Once you get out of the office and are down on your knees digging in the mud with your colleagues, a great connection is built.”

Purpose@Work also helps to amplify the activities of OMERS passionate employee resource groups (ERGs), such as the Pride Alliance and the Multicultural Alliance. The Women@OMERS ERG hosts lean-in circles which invite women to discuss career development and career mobility and support each other. A subgroup called Women in Technology has a goal of increasing gender representation in technology roles at OMERS.

Another way the company supports grassroots development of women is an annual event called OMERSx, a TEDx-inspired event where employees can apply to be a speaker. Topics are from the heart, says Ms. Murphy, and have included the challenges of fleeing war-torn Afghanistan and experiencing domestic abuse.

Ms. Murphy says she herself presented at OMERSx in 2021 and found it to be a valuable opportunity.

“I gave a talk about my career [and] my big struggle between having ambition and having children,” she says. “I also talked about coming back from maternity leave and feeling like people had made choices for me and my career because I had children.”

Ms. Murphy says her talk received a great response from women in the organization who said they felt the same way. She also feels proud that her talk sparked change.

“I had people in the organization come to me and say, ‘Your story made me think differently about this topic,’” she says.

Part of an ecosystem

After two and half years, Ms. Paul says it’s been gratifying to see the success of the Purpose@Work suite of initiatives as part of a workplace ecosystem that truly lives the organization’s values.

OMERS layers its commitment to purpose with additional programming directed at attracting and retaining women. That includes a Gradual Return to Work Program, which supports employees returning from parental leave with the ability to come back part-time and ramp up gradually. Also, Inclusive Leadership training is required for all people leaders at the organization, highlighting how unconscious bias can affect their interactions with their teams and offering techniques for mitigating against unconscious bias.

Another important part of OMERS values-driven ecosystem is the Women in Leadership Program, which supports women from across the enterprise, globally, in accelerating their development. The program provides women with networks, coaching and sponsorship with concrete outcomes, including promotions.

“We have gone around the organization and identified our high talent women who could use that bit of exposure and training to get them to the next level,” says Ms. Murphy.

Results have shown that the Women in Leadership (WiL) program has a positive impact on the experience of women leaders at OMERS and Oxford, and has helped to achieve progress against the talent management, inclusion and diversity priorities it sought to address:

  • One-year promotion rates for Cohort 1 graduates were two times higher for WiL participants versus other women directors; since the program launch, 4 out of 5 Cohort 1 participants have been promoted (as of March 2023).
  • One-year retention rates for Cohort 1 graduates were 11 per cent higher for WiL participants vs. other women directors; since the program launch, 95 per cent of Cohort 1 participants have been retained (as of March 2023).
  • WiL participants are more likely to feel their career goals can be met than other women directors.
  • WiL participants feel more positively about overall growth and development than other women directors.

It’s these kinds of positive outcomes that show how an organization with a culture of purpose and support can create a work environment where women can thrive.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with OMERS. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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