Keen to continue expanding her horizons, from 2002 to 2005 Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Waterloo, which was located right across the street from what was then the original Research in Motion (RIM) campus, known today as BlackBerry. “I decided to take a bit of a break from work while enrolled in school, and worked part-time as a consultant at RIM in the early years. In fact, I helped set up BlackBerry’s treasury function. When my contract ended, I moved on to treasury roles at several other organisations – MDS (medical devices) and Hatch (engineering) over the next five years,” Jennifer explains. But then, in 2009, RIM reached out to her. “I returned full circle to the company as Director of Treasury, and have been enjoying every day since,” she enthuses.
As well as loving the company she works for, Jennifer finds herself motivated by the many and varied challenges presented by the treasury role itself. “In my opinion, treasury is the more interesting side of finance – it’s not just accounting; it’s credit analysis and investments, foreign exchange trading, quantitative analysis, risk tolerance and cash management – very compelling and crucial responsibilities.”
Another interesting challenge to the treasury role, as Jennifer sees it, is the fact that the industry remains so male-dominated. “Fewer than 10 percent of the senior positions in this field are occupied by women. And unless more of us get to that level, it’s difficult for younger women to have a mentor they recognise near the top of their field of choice, someone they can see and relate to with a ‘Wow, look at her, I bet I could do that, too’.
“I look around the table at our CFO’s regular meetings, and I recognise that women have progressed much further since the 1980s, but in a lot of ways we’re still a long way from equality.” Often in the minority at external finance conferences or networking events as well, Jennifer says that it’s hard to know how to change the status quo. “I’ve actually been told – by a man – that if I want to succeed in business, I need to learn to play golf to ‘fit in’. Honestly, I’ve gotten over trying to be what men want or expect me to be – I’m the person that I need to be. And for me, that means I’ll go to yoga class instead of going to play golf. But I’m happy with that choice and, at least so far, it’s worked out pretty well for me.”
Throwing down the gauntlet
Nevertheless, Jennifer is keen to challenge the industry – and professional women – to think about how we can set up future generations of women for success. Part of that will involve recognising gender differences and playing to them as strengths, not weaknesses, she says. For example, “I definitely believe women bring something different to a treasury role. Women in general approach problems differently than men do; we collaborate well, and we aren’t afraid to ask questions. Men and women bring different life experiences into the workplace, and it’s those experiences that cause them to see both problems and solutions in complementary ways.”
Proactively and openly talking about balancing professional and personal life will also be key to enabling more women to be successful – and to take on senior roles, believes Jennifer. “We can’t hide from the fact that women are the child bearers, and finding the balance between professional and personal life can be difficult.” Jennifer is based in Canada, where parents are afforded an entire year off for maternity – or paternity – leave, and it can be split between each parent. “I’ve seen more and more people taking advantage of this arrangement, with the male taking more of a parenting role. In my case, my husband and I shared parenting responsibilities as much as possible – and certainly more than my parents ever did,” she notes.
But even though home life may be evolving to cater more towards working women’s lives, after mothers return to work, maintaining that balance is a challenge. Says Jennifer: “As women achieve more senior positions and better pay, nannies or home care givers can be an option. But if you don’t start in those senior positions, if you are working your way up in a career with small children at home, it’s tough to put in long days at work and still have the time and energy to devote to your family.”
So what advice does Jennifer have for women aspiring to the higher treasury ranks, and how does she put this into action within her own team? “The role of treasurer is probably as high as you’ll go in this profession. I got all the way here, having really started from the very bottom, so I have great appreciation for every person on my team – their contributions and their career aspirations, as well as the expectations they have of me to lead them and help them grow.
“I emphasise cross-training on my team. Every person becomes more valuable when they not only know their own role, but they also understand how others impact the team. Someone in banking should also understand cash management; FX traders need to understand investments and interest rate swaps. That’s the biggest thing I encourage people to do – don’t just do your job, try to learn more about what others do and how that makes you a better employee,” she advises.
Finally, from a leadership perspective, making sure you’re hiring the right people is vital not only to the company’s success but to your personal success too, says Jennifer. “If my boss trusts me in making decisions, I need to trust my team in making decisions – I need to be able to rely on them as much as my boss relies on me.” And in her role at BlackBerry, it certainly seems that Jennifer can do just that.