The Conversation: Why Nicola Wealth’s Selena Woo is passionate about Vancouver’s finance industry

Nicola Wealth exec Selena Woo talks about moving the dial on representation and diversity

Nicola Wealth executive and 2023 BCBusiness Women of the Year runner-up Selena Woo has been moving the dial on representation and diversity in finance since coming to Vancouver after graduating from the University of Calgary. We met at Nicola’s South Granville office to talk about work, life and creating a better future for the next generation.

You’re a known name in Vancouver business circles. With that comes some responsibility. How is the business scene in Vancouver growing? Am I right in saying that you seem to have the goal of making sure the industry supports women in the right way?

Definitely one of my goals as I’m growing within my career is to make sure I’m bringing people up with me. When I look at the business scene, I think of the mentorship piece and sponsoring and championing: I will bring my colleagues with me to events or invite other women. It’s about building community, not just business; it’s the deep connections where you’re rooted together with purpose. With community, you keep opening your arms and welcoming people in.

Do you feel you were supported adequately that way when you were coming up? Or do you feel there’s more work to be done and that’s one of the reasons why you’re doing it?

I think there’s more work to be done [laughs]. I get asked a lot about role models and, to be quite frank, early in my career, growing up in Calgary, being in the financial services sector as a young woman, I didn’t see any role models who looked like me. There were very few Chinese women executives. It was challenging. As you progress in your career, you gain more confidence in being your own best role model, in terms of trying to find your voice to be confident and asking for what you need.

You’ve been with Nicola for just over seven years now and have had a bunch of different roles within the organization, from manager to director to, now, vice-president of advisory services – associates and operations. How have you been able to navigate that?

Nicola is such an entrepreneurial organization—[founder and CEO] John [Nicola] was an EY Entrepreneur of the Year—it instils this entrepreneurial mindset in you and encourages you to be creative and go after what you’re looking for. And then you just need supports along the way. Both of my two leaders here have been women and they’ve supported me in my trajectory and trusted me with the firm’s different initiatives.

You have young kids. I have a toddler, and I think a lot about, one, how to live a busy life and make sure you’re holding your weight in the household and, two, how you encourage them to be smart, engaged people in the world. Do you think about that?

I think about it all the time. I’ll throw my dog in there too—he’s a labradoodle. I call my life an organized, or beautiful, chaos. It’s up to us how we talk about our narrative. The words we tell ourselves are transformative. I look at it like a beautiful chaos because I have a lot of opportunities that people don’t necessarily have that add to my beautiful bucket of chaos. When your kids are young, they need you to feed them, bathe them, clothe them. But around six or seven years old, that’s when the memories form, that’s when the stickiness is there and you have to think about how you lead at home. Because in business or personal life, the most important behaviours you want others to emulate come through observation. They’re watching what you’re doing and listening to your words, how you’re inspiring people. I think about that a lot with my kids.

How do you choose what events and obligations to attend outside of work?

I’m quite focused and intentional in terms of what I say yes and no to. And my kids know that. For me, it’s around youth, women and Chinese and marginalized communities. I volunteer with Junior Achievement and the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. It all ties into my life. People say, “You’re always hustling and grinding,” but it’s to make the hill higher so people behind you can see farther. I don’t expect my daughter to grind how I’m grinding. Because the point is to pave the path for them to continue leading. I want her to experience a life without barriers because she’s a woman or because she’s Chinese.

You host the Nicola Wealth Women’s LEAD (Leadership, Excellence, Achievement, Diversity) podcast. What’s that experience been like?

Yeah, it’s part of our Women’s LEAD Initiative. I’m going into my third season and I love it. It lights up my day. I do one a month and try to feature all different kinds of women. There’s no specific theme or topic, it’s just to help amplify women and their voices.

Who have been some of your favourite guests on the podcast?

Oh, that’s so tough. There have been so many great ones. But Carol Lee [chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation] was the first external one we did. It was brand new and before I knew her, and she said yes. I was a bit unsure about approaching her, since she’s such a big figure. It goes back to the advocacy and championing. She said yes to this grassroots thing she knew nothing about. It inspires me to be saying yes to other people who ask me for things I may not know about or ask me to join a panel, an event.

Who is on your guest wish list?

Michelle Yeoh, for sure. Especially with her historic wins last year and her speech at the Oscars. That really validated for me why I do what I do. When she said, “To all the little boys and girls out there who look like me, no one is past their prime.” Right? You’re never too old to believe in your dreams.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Quick Hits

Pet peeve: People who are rude and unappreciative

Hobby: Taking my dog for long walks while listening to music (when it’s not raining)

RecenT TV binge: The Brothers Sun on Netflix

Most memorable concert: Jonas Brothers in Toronto last summer with my daughter

If I had a superpower, it would be: The ability to instil unwavering hope and boundless inspiration in every person that I encounter

Favourite place in B.C.:During the last few years, we spent a lot of time travelling to various places in B.C., renting cabins. I don’t have a particular spot, but I’m hoping to enjoy more cabin life

Last book I read: I haven’t yet finished Cathy Thorpe’s Bold Kindness, but I’m enjoying it. I’m currently on the chapter that discusses having a scarcity vs. abundance mindset