Pat Reavy introduced Julie Barker-Merz, Senior Vice President for Southwestern Ontario Bank of Montreal. She was educated at the University of Ottawa and completed her Master’s degree at Dalhousie.
Ms Barker-Merz began her presentation entitled “Investing in Women” answering the question, ‘Gender equity- have we progressed?’ with an emphatic ‘Yes!’ She cited as evidence her position at the Bank of Montreal, which she achieved due to her qualifications, not her gender.
She went on to point out that 80% of purchasing decisions are made by women. Furthermore, women are poised to inherit 75% of the largest transferal of wealth ever in the next ten years. On the other hand, while women start new businesses at 1.5 times the rate that men do, they only receive 4% of venture capital.
She presented a graphic of the composition of business roles of women in S&P 500 companies

4% CEO’s

19% Board seats

25% senior management

37% low and mid-level management

45% labour force is comprised of women

Ms Barker-Merz then described the changing attitude of the Bank of Montreal (BMO) to its female business clients. The traditional banking model is men speaking to men, and men do not take into account that women entrepreneurs relate to bankers differently, in that they are more likely to seek advice, rather than just delivering a business plan and requesting funds. Male bankers tend to interpret the request for advice as an indication of poor risk. In addition, men are bigger risk-takers than women and present much grander aspirations in their business growth, while women tend to prefer to start small and grow as their management skills improve, and do not want to risk the financial security of their families to do so. A BMO study found that women were not risk-averse, but were risk aware, so BMO is now undertaking to re-educate their lending staff to better deal with these differences between men and women. Taking a leadership role in forming new relationships with business women,

1) BMO have made $2 billion available to businesses with 51% ownership.

2) Barker-Merz was involved in starting a Leadership Fund with BMO, selecting 144 companies that have at least 25% of their Boards represented by women, as there is clear evidence that mixed gender boards out-perform single gender boards. This fund addresses the social challenge of the under-representation of women in senior leadership. The fund was launched in April 2016 as a ‘social’ fund. In its first year this fund produced a 36.4% return on equity, 60% return on invested capital and 84% higher return on sales. It has outperformed other funds by 300 basis points, with a growth of 13% in its first 9 months.

3)BMO supports three business organizations; Women Presidents Organization (with 130 chapters worldwide), (an organization to aid established business in expansion), and SheEO, an organization that recognized the need to change the current mode of business support for women. SheEO was founded by Vicki Saunders as a new way to give to and grow female-led companies in Canada. She calls it Radical Generosity: 1000 women donate $1000 to create a $1 million pool to fund 10 female-led businesses. These businesses use the funds to grow their business and are expected to pay it back in 5 years, to perpetuate the fund. Locally, Barker-Merz participated in a group of 500 women who donated $1000 each to fund 5 businesses. Three hundred entrepreneurs applied for the funds. The donors evaluated the applications and selected worthy businesses. The entrepreneurs then received three days of coaching and were directed to determine how the funds would be directed, with the proviso that it could NOT be evenly divided. The five businesses made their decisions but did not access all of the available money. The second round will launch next week. Barker-Merz spoke of one of the funded businesses, launched by Nadia Hamilton, for an App that helps autistic or other learning impaired children get through their day successfully. Nadia originally developed the App to help her autistic brother get himself ready for school. It is supported by many brands such as sports teams, and many food and clothing brands, whose icons show up on the App related to appropriate activities.

Charlotte thanked Ms Barker-Merz for her inspiring presentation, noting that her honorarium was directed to the Kids Helpline.

BMO: Investing in Women

Julie Barker-Merz: Investing in Women at BMO