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Women in Asset Management · Claire Foran

Ivey's Women in Asset Management program: The in-class experience

Jun 15, 2022


Claire Foran has just finished her second year in the Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) program at Western University and hopes to attend the Ivey Business School in the fall. She is from Calgary, Alberta and volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Society of Calgary in her free time. On May 27, 2022, she received her certificate of completion for Ivey’s inaugural Women in Asset Management Program, which required four weeks of in-class learning. She is now enjoying the next part of the program, her internship with RBC Global Asset Management.

I started my journey with the Women in Asset Management (WAM) program with a loose understanding of asset management as a collection of daunting financial concepts. Joining 32 notable women, I entered the Ivey classroom with the expectations outlined in the program brochure: develop an understanding of finance, advance our industry knowledge, and learn about career success. 

The technical skills, industry exposure, life advice, meaningful relationships, and self-realization tools I’ve gained over the last four weeks have completely blown away those expectations. 

In line with the program being so well-rounded, my highlights from the past month come from each element of Ivey’s in-class experience. 

The 'scary' stuff

I have heard people say that “finance is its own language,” and wow, it is a challenging language to learn. 

Thankfully, program directors Steve Foerster and Saurin Patel fostered an engaging learning environment where I felt comfortable asking questions. The professors understood that first exposure to concepts like the time value of money and internal rate of return was quite scary for us, and their compassionate rather than condescending nature encouraged everyone to participate. 

Through their help in building foundational finance skills, we were introduced to the Bloomberg terminal, covered Python coding and Microsoft Excel, mastered the discounted cash flow valuation method, and much more. The program provided me with skills that I thought would be impossible to learn in only four weeks. Although scary at first, I am now intrigued by the topics and look forward to learning more.

Not just about numbers

One of my most meaningful realizations from the in-class experience was that when it comes to thriving in the asset management industry, it’s not just what you know, but who you are. Technical skills are important, but the soft skills you bring are critical to career success. 

The program provided us with an opportunity to sharpen our people skills and improve our introspection by offering networking events with company representatives, leadership workshops, and self-realization activities to help determine the roots of our fears. 

Kanina Blanchard, Assistant Professor of Management Communications and General Management, worked closely with the group to build our confidence. Communication skills and how we present ourselves are vital to being taken seriously in jobs that require human interaction. Blanchard covered everything from the way we sit in a chair to the appropriate octave of the voice to be using. With her help, I realized that confidence is all about self-awareness. When the message being communicated is 55 per cent body language, proper posture can go a long way. 

I also found it remarkable how seemingly minor things can significantly impact how we are portrayed. Especially as women, being confident in ourselves and in what we share is the first step to proving ourselves in this male-dominated industry. 

Breaking the barrier for women

Although the program covered many topics, for me, the part that stood out the most, in line with the WAM mission of increasing the number of women in asset management, was our exposure to women heroes in the industry. We spoke with women who climbed the corporate ladder and took on powerful leadership roles, despite being in the minority within the industry. And what I found to be the most inspirational part of each of their journeys was their mastery of work-life balance.

Many women feel that achieving career success comes at the cost of family life. This may be attributed to longstanding stereotypes about women's responsibilities or because the lack of women within finance has made it rare to see role models balancing both corporate and homemaker roles. However, many of our inspiring guests proved this was not the case and that achieving a balance between work and family is possible. 

For instance, Rose Devli, Asset Manager at 1832 Asset Management, found the time to come to London to speak with our group, despite the many demands that come with being pregnant and handling a busy job. And Barbara Zvan, Chief Executive Officer at University Pension Plan Ontario, has three kids in addition to a highly successful career. Zvan opened up to us about having a nanny when her children were young.

“I was there for all the big sports games and performances, but they didn’t want me there for every little event,” Zvan told us. “They wanted to become independent. My kids were excited to grow and respected that I was still growing too.”

Perhaps, my favourite part of the in-class experience was finding out that there is no “one size fits all” for how we should live our lives as women. Whether it’s becoming a mother, girlfriend, or Chief Financial Officer, as women in asset management we are all breaking the limitations of stereotypes and underrepresentation and can truly achieve everything.

A new meaning to asset management

Generally speaking, asset management can be defined as manufacturing assets (through portfolio diversification or some approach to investing), in a way that creates value. While these assets are usually stocks or bonds, I believe that all 33 women in my program are the assets, too. We are intelligent, driven students with a passion for this industry.

Our in-class experience was not only educational, but it provided an opportunity for us to “manufacture” ourselves by building foundational tools to enrich our value. Whether it was through confidence-building exercises, development of our technical finance skills, or discovering the achievability of work-life balance, each in-class component helped shape how we will define ourselves as women in asset management.