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Jennifer Reynolds: ‘I like to lead, I don’t like to micromanage’

Jennifer Reynolds, 44, is chief executive officer of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Jennifer Reynolds, 44, is chief executive officer of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets.

My days are filled with people. I'm back-to-back in meetings and that's what makes it interesting. I meet with senior leaders. I meet with my members, from anyone just entering the industry to senior folks, or people on government issues. I'm out speaking to different people on the importance of gender diversity to the economy and more generally. I get to learn every day because of these interactions so I am pretty lucky.

Most of my career was in investment banking: The last couple of years were in venture capital. Coming to this was a unique thing. A role like this doesn't come every day. I had to learn a whole new skill set. The reason I am in the role today is because this is an opportunity to have a big impact. I was frustrated with the lack of women in senior leadership roles in this industry. When I graduated in 1994, I thought this problem was solved but quickly realized I was wrong so I wanted to spend a portion of my career driving change. It's a risk to go from 15 years in capital markets to do something very different but the opportunity came along and I was willing to take the risk.

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I've learned a lot about the causes that contribute to a lack of gender diversity. Most of all, I've learned the importance of engaging men. For so long it was a bunch of women together trying to drive change, but I now fully understand the importance of including men in that dialogue. Men do want to see progress on this issue and participate in a positive way. That's the most important thing I've learned. We need to keep figuring out ways to engage men.

I'm most proud of the Return to Bay Street Program. It's a model not just for our industry but others. How else can you bring these women back and not put them in junior roles? We need to think of this model and the impact on the broader economy. We cannot lose educated women from the work force permanently just because they took a couple of years off. I think it's a fundamental problem for our talent pool in Canada. That realization of how badly this issue needs to be fixed has been a real "aha!" moment for me.

We have people who say they love diversity but do they really buy into it? Does our corporate culture really encourage diversity? We need more than groups inside companies. To really effect change, you need to start with a company's corporate culture and that's a bigger nut to crack.

The hardest part is how slow change comes. There are many CEOs who want to see change, but cultural change takes time and it takes a leader saying it over and over before anyone gets it. The hardest part is knowing you have to stay at it, and it's a long process. It's certainly a marathon, not a sprint.

I like to lead, I don't like to micromanage. So I set strategic goals or the mission and then I let people run with it and figure out their way to get to the end and see success. I need to empower people to do that. I like to get feedback from everyone and ask for advice. I'm very collaborative. I'm the exact opposite of the "man in control." I'm very result oriented.

There is power in numbers. I have 10 full-time staff and 250 volunteer employees. We have 80 events a year and it couldn't happen without our full-time staff and volunteers so it's really these women driving this thing.

There are important changes happening in the financial industry as well as in women's advocacy groups. Rapid changes have forced everyone to think how they are going to reinvent themselves in the future. This is a great opportunity right now. It makes talent even more critical. If you are going to innovative, you need the best talent so it puts my initiative higher up on the agenda. Financial institutions in Canada are further ahead in gender diversity because there is a growing recognition of the importance of talent pools and building innovative teams. We live in interesting times. In terms of women's organizations, there is a growing realization that we need men in the equation, which will change that dynamic as well.

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Best advice I ever got was from my grandmother. "Aim high." I'm a very positive person so that's very engrained in me to set high goals for myself. The worst advice was to slow down. I am not made that way. I am the opposite of a procrastinator so I need to be in a culture that moves quickly and is results oriented.

As told to Leah Eichler.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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