Calgary female-headed investment firm talks diversity on International Women’s Day

In addition to having a female founder, Invico has an unusually high proportion of women employees, at 63 per cent

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Allison Taylor is a success, by any definition of the word.

The 47-year-old is co-founder and CEO of Calgary alternative investment firm Invico, which was founded in 2005 and currently has more than $900 million of private capital under management. The firm’s signature fund — the Invico Diversified Income Fund — recently recorded the most active quarter for capital placement in its history, with deals closed in the energy, real estate, pharmaceutical and film sectors. In the midst of a global pandemic and an economic recession, the firm is expanding — having more than doubled its employee head count in the past 18 months, to a total of 27.

She has an MBA from the Haskayne School of Business and, in true Type A fashion, runs marathons in her spare time (she’s completed a total of 54, including the Boston Marathon).

But Taylor’s impressive resumé wasn’t built without its share of hurdles. Women remain under-represented in her industry, and that means Taylor has encountered more than her share of unconscious bias, prejudice and good old-fashioned sexism.

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“In corporate finance, I would say there is a lot of old boys’ club mentality,” Taylor said in an interview last week. “The hashtag #MeToo wasn’t a thing when I was in my 20s, but I could tell some stories if it was.”

According to a 2020 report by data and analytics firm Preqin, 20.4 per cent of employees working at private equity, venture capital and hedge fund firms are women. At the managing level and above, there is a significant gender gap, with women accounting for just 11.9 per cent of senior roles. That means that in Calgary and elsewhere, female-headed investment firms such as Invico remain a rarity.

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Taylor founded the firm with her male business partner, Jason Brooks. The two work well together now, and did when they were colleagues at Ernst & Young back in the early 2000s. Having a male-female ownership team at Invico has been a positive for the firm, Taylor said, as the two often have different perspectives that complement each other.

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But Taylor acknowledged that over the years, she and Brooks have had very different experiences making their ways in the world of finance.

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“I think the biggest challenge for me was I always noticed that when we walked in the room, he got immediate respect — and I had to earn my respect,” she said. “It was a fight that I had to do through my 20s and 30s. I think now that I’m at the level I’m at, people have respect just because of my title.”

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In addition to having a female founder, Invico has an unusually high proportion of female employees, at 63 per cent.

Taylor said Invico — which is hosting a “Women in Finance” roundtable on Monday, International Women’s Day, to discuss diversity in the financial sector and workforce — has never set hiring targets around gender diversity. In fact, she believes such targets can be harmful as they may feed perceptions that women don’t have the talent to be hired on merit alone. However, she said her firm works hard to create an environment where all employees are valued and respected, and have the chance to climb the ranks.

“We strive to hire great people, regardless of their gender,” Taylor said. “We have people that have started here at the administrative level, and they’ve been promoted over the years and now they’re in the C-suite.”

Taylor said the very fact that Invico is headed by a woman likely makes it easier for the firm to attract other talented women. She said women working in male-dominated fields need mentors to encourage and assist them as they rise through the ranks.

“When I was young, the only C-suite role models that were women were in HR. And I wasn’t interested in being a VP of HR,” Taylor said. “I think as times change and we get more women into the C-suite, and more successful women who are proving they can balance everything, we will have more role models for younger women.”

Taylor said there are still impediments preventing women from pursuing high-level careers in finance, not the least of which is the question of work-life balance. Taylor herself took only nine days of maternity leave after having her daughter 11 years ago, and then was back at her desk.

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“If women want to have a family, they have to make choices how they’re going to juggle all that,” she said. “Having a supportive partner is very important.”

According to a 2019 survey by national not-for-profit organization Women in Capital Markets, only half of women working in the financial markets industry believe they are treated equally and have the same access to opportunities as men at their firm. Only one-third of women believe their firms are free from gender bias and that the promotion process is fair and objective.

Only 34 per cent of women working in capital markets believe they are paid equally to other genders, while 82 per cent of women in this industry believe that maternity leave will hurt their career.

According to the survey, Black women report the most barriers as well as the highest levels of inequality and bias, and are least optimistic about their careers.

astephenson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @AmandaMsteph

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