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Diversity and Inclusion


How to be a leader in every role

Robyn Graham, CFA

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, CFA Society Toronto hosted a panel of women leaders in the asset management industry, focusing on how every woman in the workplace, regardless of role and rank, can also be a leader and unfold her leadership potential. Heather Cooke, Chief Investment Officer at The Audra Group, led the discussion, featuring Oricia Smith, President at Sun Life Global Investments; Alice Fang, President and CEO of NT Global Advisors, Inc. and Head of Northern Trust Asset Management in Canada; and Catherine Heath, Vice President, Portfolio Manager at Leith Wheeler. 

Leadership without authority

The panel drew an important distinction between leadership and management, explaining how leadership may be demonstrated without direct reporting lines. In fact, leading without authority has been a trending topic in business circles, accelerated by the loosening of traditional business structures during the pandemic. A collaborative culture among colleagues working together toward mutual goals may give rise to opportunities to demonstrate leadership skills at any level.

Critical skill sets

The panellists began by retracing their own paths to leadership. Given their diverse backgrounds, it was interesting to explore the common traits that brought each of them to leadership roles in their organizations. All agreed that being curious and asking questions had been key in their development paths. Critical listening, analysis, discussion, debate, and strong communication skills enable leaders to prompt collaboration within diverse groups with differing opinions. Importantly, the ability to keep an open mind while exploring alternative points of view and new data can cause others to take notice of this skill set, resulting in the respect of colleagues and new opportunities down the line.

The power of networking

The panel encouraged leaders to build their networks early, noting that colleagues and peers today will be the foundation of your network later in your career. Your network is a critical resource composed of diverse people who may be positioned to help you down the line.

Getting to the board

Recognizing that diversity on boards leads to better corporate performance, the panel noted that, ironically, most board vacancies are still filled internally by people who are known to the board. Board training and membership in organizations such as the Institute of Corporate Directors can help you break into the network of people known to existing boards. The panel also recommended volunteer activities as an important stepping-stone in building this network. When vying for a board seat, be prepared to explain what you will bring to the table to help diversify the thinking of the board.

Through encouragement and example, the panel showcased how leadership opportunities present themselves in every role. A collaborative and open mindset, strong communication, and networking skills are the keys to success at every level.  CFA_Toronto_RGB Milly




The panel agreed that mentors played important roles in their careers and encouraged attendees to build authentic relationships through dialogue, get out to meet people, and ask questions. Mentors should not be expected to immediately advance your career, but they have the potential to become valuable, reciprocal, long-term relationships in your network.

CFA Society Toronto’s Annual Mentorship Program provides participants an opportunity to develop stronger leadership skills and access unique networking opportunities. To find out more about this program and other related resources and programs, visit us online. 

Do the work and be open to opportunity

In their journeys to leadership, all panellists shared a dedicated work ethic and openness to embracing new opportunities and ideas. “People, especially women, often say, ‘I got lucky,’” Heather commented, “But we’ve got to stop saying that. Dedication and hard work will lead to opportunities for leadership over time.”

“Have the confidence to take advantage of opportunities when they arise,” Oricia recommended, “Put your hand up. Be open. Fill in the gaps in your organization.” 

“Understand that there are a multitude of career paths in finance,” Catherine added. “Don’t think a career in finance is not the right fit for your skill set.”

Relax and don’t be afraid to fail

The panelists encouraged young leaders to dispense with the self-doubt that sometimes blocks advancement. 

“You can learn,” Alice said, “You know more than you think. Confidence comes from the belief that you can do it or learn how to do it.” 

Catherine agreed. “Don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said, “Relax. Have fun. Failure is a learning experience.” 

“Get out of your own head,” said Oricia, “Be positive. Don’t rehash your decisions.”

Robyn Graham, CFA, CFP, CIM, FCSI, is a volunteer member and Past Chair of CFA Society Toronto’s Member Communications Committee. She was formerly a Managing Director in Wealth Management at ETF Capital Management/Quintessence Wealth.

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