Lara Zink
Jaime Hogge

The new head of Women in Capital Markets (WCM) says the organization is prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) and connecting with more marginalized groups.

“We would really like to expand our reach to racialized professionals and the LGBTQ2S+ community to give them a sense of belonging in our organization,” said Lara Zink, who became president and CEO of WCM in February.

WCM provides mentoring and coaching to women in the Canadian capital markets in addition to doing research and advocacy work. The organization has about 3,500 members across the country. Those members include professionals and high-school and university students, as well as more than 250 male allies, Zink said.

Traditionally, WCM has taken an “intersectional” approach to understanding the prejudices women in capital markets face by considering factors such as race and class. The organization now looks to connect with more marginalized groups.

This year, WCM will perform more outreach to attract participants of all genders who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and people with disabilities to WCM’s recruiting events in an effort to help sponsors find more diverse candidates to fill job vacancies. WCM’s sponsors include independent and bank-owned investment dealers, asset managers and pension plans.

Zink said she hopes to grow WCM’s membership and “promote the fact that ED&I can’t just be on the corner of someone’s desk in an organization” — it needs to be a priority. Adding more sponsors, she said, will “allow us to increase our advocacy work into organizations that need to prioritize making ED&I a pillar of their culture.”

The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, along with the pandemic, have “put the spotlight on social issues that are directly related to the work that we do,” said Katie Squires-Thompson, WCM’s chief strategy officer.

WCM’s ED&I initiative is “about creating an inclusive culture that is open to all different groups and allows all different groups to advance with the same ease,” Squires-Thompson said. “We’ll actually be able to achieve more if we can take a more inclusive and holistic approach.”

Squires-Thompson, who was WCM’s interim president and CEO after previous leader Camilla Sutton departed in December 2020, said Zink has the experience to execute on WCM’s new strategy: “She really understands the industry and also has that important network that she can draw on.”

Zink joined WCM from RBC Capital Markets, where she spent 21 years on the trading floor sales desk and became managing director of global institutional equity sales in 2010. Her first role on the desk involved selling Canadian stocks and IPOs to institutional investors; she moved to the U.S. platform for her last six years with RBC, selling U.S. equities and secondary financings to institutional clients.

“My biggest challenge in having a career in capital markets was raising a young family and balancing my career at the same time,” Zink said. She called this period of her life the “cram-it-all-in years,” referencing a term coined by Hacking Sophia, a digital platform for working mothers.

As a single mother, Zink found those years especially difficult. (She got divorced when her kids were two and four years old.) Her juggling act didn’t end when her children became teenagers.

“Before my son got his driver’s licence two years ago, I was taking him home from hockey at 11:00 p.m. or even later, and then I had to be on the desk at 6:30 a.m. the next morning,” she said.

Zink said she was fortunate to be able to afford full-time childcare. Her ex-husband took the kids every second weekend, so she also had some time to focus on herself. Zink later remarried and her kids are mostly grown — one is in Grade 11 and the other is studying at university.

But not all women are in the same position as Zink. Many leave the workforce to raise young children. One of WCM’s best-known initiatives is the Return to Bay Street Award Program, which helps women rejoin the industry after a leave of absence. The program has helped 74 women return to capital markets jobs over the past 10 years, Zink said.

“We don’t have a challenge filling the pipeline of junior women coming into capital markets,” Zink said. “We have a challenge keeping that three- to seven-year [career] woman in her job, and that’s because of the cram-it-all-in years.”

Supporting women through those years aligns with Zink’s goal of helping women advance in their careers. She said she wants to build a permanent support network for women in different firms and areas of capital markets as they climb the career ladder.

“Right now, we have six women who get awarded our Emerging Leaders Coaching Award each year,” Zink said. “We can expand that significantly ­— and we need to expand that significantly. We need to support more leaders in their advancement.”

WCM also runs a members-only job board and maintains a directory of executive women who are eligible to occupy board seats. (According to the Canadian Securities Administrators’ review of 610 issuers, women occupied a mere 20% of boards seats in 2020.)

“[WCM’s] main goal is to elevate and help women get promoted into roles so there are more women who are eligible to sit on boards,” Zink said.