Chair and CEO, British Columbia Securities Commission
It was the early 1980s, and Brenda Leong was conflicted. A couple of years after graduating with a business degree from the University of Alberta, the native Calgarian had a job as a customer service representative at Bank of Nova Scotia. She enjoyed the field and had inherited her serial entrepreneur father, Carl’s, love of capital markets, but something didn’t seem right.
“When I reflect back now, one of the reasons I didn’t stay [in finance] and decided to pursue law was that I looked up into the executive level of the bank and saw that there were no women,” the affable but serious BCSC head says.
So it was off to the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. Leong spent about 15 years practising corporate law in Vancouver, but she never stopped dreaming of a career in the financial sector. She did a brief stint in the ’90s at her current workplace, but the watchdog was “going through some operational changes,” she says, prompting her to return to law.
In 2004, though, she was lured back, becoming executive director of the BCSC before being appointed chair and CEO five years later. She was recently named to a third five-year term with the regulator, slated to end in 2023.
Although finance has made great strides toward gender equality, Leong says, it still has a ways to go. She’s encouraged by the number of women in her daughter’s business class at McGill University (Leong says it’s split 50/50 between genders), and hopeful that many of those students will go on to choose a financial career. “But it’s a complicated matter, and if it was an easy fix, we’d be there,” she explains. “My personal view is that there’s a lot of ingrained systemic biases, or what some writers have referred to as unconscious bias, which makes it challenging for women to succeed.”
At the BCSC, Leong is proud that about half of its 243 employees are women. As for the rest of her legacy, she points to things like keeping pace with fin-tech innovation, as well as promoting education in avoiding fraud, as touchstones from her 10 years as CEO of a body that prioritizes protecting investors in B.C. The securities commission just got a $7.6-million revenue increase from higher fees to beef up enforcement.
“We strive to implement effective, smart regulation to have a vibrant capital market,” Leong maintains. “At the same time, we work to protect investors through our enforcement efforts and public education campaigns.” —Nathan Caddell
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