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Members of the MCAN Mortgage Corporation executive team (from left) Carl Brown, Mike Jensen, Sylvia Pinto, Brenna McGibney, Floriana Cipollone, Karen Weaver, Avish Buck, Nazeera Khan and Paul Gill, photographed at their offices in Toronto.Tijana Martin

How did they do it? It’s a question routinely posed to the leaders at MCAN Mortgage Corporation. The Toronto-based financial services company has achieved a level of gender diversity so many companies say they want.

Sixty per cent of MCAN’s leadership team roles are held by women. According to the Globe’s Women Lead Here annual survey, that comfortably beats the average even amongst organizations with significant numbers of female executives. (Of the 71 firms selected by the Globe as having “good” female leadership representation, the average in those organizations was 44 per cent.)

The top job of president and CEO at MCAN is held by a woman, as are the roles of vice-president and chief financial officer. Internal surveys at the publicly-traded company, which invests in mortgage products and runs a subsidiary that offers residential mortgages, suggest that more than 70 per cent of its 120 employees identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour).

These are impressive numbers in comparison to industry norms: A North American-wide survey from McKinsey & Company reveals that 64 per cent of financial services C-suite executives are white men and 23 per cent white women.

Karen Weaver, who began as interim president and CEO in October 2018 and took on the job permanently the following May, says diversity has been the outcome rather than the goal of the company’s workplace culture strategy. (MCAN landed Great Place to Work certification in November 2021, which is awarded to companies based on employee surveys and an assessment of workplace culture.)

“It starts with trust and respect for all,” Ms. Weaver says. “It doesn’t matter what colour their skin is or their gender. It’s all about how they can do the job and do it well.” She says her executive team has set the tone around being inclusive and caring – both at work and who they are outside of work.

“Tone from the top is everything,” says Floriana Cipollone, vice president and chief financial officer. Through a long career in the industry, Ms. Cipollone says she’s seen other organizations try to improve their diversity metrics and fail.

“They don’t achieve what they want because they don’t walk the talk,” she says.

Hiring for skills

Ms. Weaver says she and her hiring team – which includes vice president of human resources and corporate communications Brenna McGibney – look past specific experience when filling positions.

“I’ve always tried to find the smartest person for the job, not necessarily the person whose résumé fits the job,” says Ms. Weaver.

Avish Buck, vice president of residential lending, says he’s seen the boys’ club mentality dominate other companies in the industry, with closed-door conversations about who gets hired and why. He notes that only some men get included in these talks at work – at bars and on the golf links – and he personally never gained entry.

“There’s a sense of fairness at MCAN,” Mr. Buck says. “Anybody feels they have a chance.”

Giving everyone a chance is not just an abstract idea at MCAN. Ms. Weaver has been fine-tuning a comprehensive development program that includes technical and specialty training, management training for all employees and executive development.

For the past year-and-a half, Milica Pejic has served as vice president of finance, but she was previously head of internal audit, making the switch through the company’s executive development program.

“I’ve had the support of my boss, of Karen and the rest of the executive team. I’ve been learning and have had the opportunity to make mistakes and ask questions,” Ms. Pejic says.

One of the issues that many women face in the business world is getting pushed out of high performance jobs when they start families. Ms. McGibney says that’s not the case at MCAN, where employees are supported through parental leaves.

“We plan when they’re coming back, potentially [moving them] into a new, higher role,” she says. MCAN keeps in touch with new parents and keeps them informed of goings-on at the company, if that is what they want.

A family culture

When Nazeera Khan, who’s now chief audit officer, joined MCAN in 2018 as a newcomer to Canada from South Africa, she didn’t know a lot of people.

“MCAN became a home, a family,” she says. “That’s a really important reason why people stay, because you feel that people care about you.”

Embracing employees for who they are at work and at home is a core part of company culture, Ms. Weaver says.

“We know each other – our styles, our strengths, our areas of challenges. We know about [each other’s] families, hobbies and interests,” she says.

Monthly virtual town halls begun during the pandemic celebrate a range of religious holidays, as well as segments where employees interview each other about their lives. “People enrich our work culture by what they bring to the table,” Ms. Weaver says.

And while MCAN considers itself a high performance company that expects a lot from its employees, expectations are tempered with compassion, she adds.

“I believe that we have an accountability to our team, not just our shareholders,” says Ms. Weaver. “We choose to make that happen, and we have been rewarded.”

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