Navigating Private Capital As A Woman: The Top Takeaways From CVCA’s AMA Series With Whitney Rockley

March 14, 2018 | By: Jon Jackson

In celebration of International Women’s Day this year, the CVCA embarked on a cross-country tour, speaking to women (and men) at Canadian business schools on the viability of careers in Canadian venture capital and private equity.

In various cities in Canada, business school participants enjoyed insights and an intimate, informal Q&A with female industry ambassadors, led by CVCA Chair, Whitney Rockley, who spoke openly about the challenges and opportunities they’ve experience throughout their careers.

The final AMA session in 2018 will take place at UBC Sauder School Of Business in Vancouver on Mar. 22.

Recapping the sessions, here are some of the top takeaways on those sessions based on the responses from Whitney Rockley. Responses were through the lens of Rockley’s career path in private capital, how she’s climbed to the partner level and how she has encouraged founders to build and scale great companies; playing a core role in Canada’s economy.

On Being A Woman In Private Capital

“Just stay the course. It’s blurry and it kind of sucks. But too many people take the off-ramp for a variety of reasons. It may get ugly but then it gets really good.”

  • One of biggest observations I had made: I started out in an industry with some spectacularly intelligent women.
  • The industry has traditionally been a high-testosterone type A profession.
  • In our early to mid 30’s, many of the women in the industry started families. Following maternity leave, many didn’t come back to the industry or tried to come back on a part time basis which didn’t work because the men ran circles around them because they were still working 24/7. This may be because they didn’t have to balance work and family as much as the women. Because of this, many women were not staying the course in their professions.
  • Now women are in the partner ranks but they’re coming from different backgrounds (i.e. Janet Bannister, Real Ventures, who came from Kijiji).
  • One of the biggest challenges when I first started my career as a woman in private capital was to be taken seriously (men used me to spell-check investment applications rather than write portions of them).
  • It’s really important to be assertive and stand up for yourself.
  • Make sure you work your networks as MUCH as you can but do it in a way that works for you rather than feeling an obligation to network in traditional ways.

Women Breaking Into VC & PE

“Always remember where your passion is, or where your strengths are, and how you might bring your background to a firm.”

  • There are lots of ways to break into venture or private equity.
  • Working at a bank is not the only path into PE. You can also work for one of the big consulting firms or come from the entrepreneurial side.
  • One starting point: MBA is the smart thing you can do.
  • Commence your CFA.
  • You need to research the landscape of firms across the country to get a sense of what each investment firm focuses on.
  • How can you work your existing skillset into the focus on that firm?
  • Your analytical capabilities are hugely important (financial, market, technology/product, competitive analyses).
  • Demonstrate the examples of work that you’ve done that is relevant to the firm, even if it is through your course work.
  • Intellectual curiosity is the biggest differentiator we (McRock Capital) consider when we’re interviewing potential candidates. We like relentless hunters.
  • Preparation breeds spontaneity. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Immerse yourself in the sector you are passionate about and know which VC funds are performing well and which companies are performing the best.
  • Read up on relative government programs to show that you’re aware of those impacting the industry.
  • Have self-awareness on what your passions are, where your skills are, and where you need to develop.
  • Analyst/Associate positions are a great starting point at an investor firm.
  • It is rare to pop into a principal position without having 8+ years in the industry.
  • Figure out what you enjoy and spend as much time as you can either reading and networking or following those threads of curiosity, and there will be connections that you will find.

Whitney Rockley At The 1st Annual IWD Advancing Girls & Women Celebration In 2018 #PressForProgress

Communicating In A Confident Way

“Make sure to stay assertive. Be true to who you are with your work product and your personality.”

  • This is my biggest issue. I have struggled for my entire adult life over public speaking and even speaking in groups, and I get my energy by doing my own internal re-charging, but I’ve learned to be more interactive.
  • Learn how to speak and projecting your voice is key. You need to find out ways to get grounded and rooted through different physical warm-up exercises before speaking. Here’s the kicker: it works half the time, but the other half the time, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, I am super humbled and it just reminds me to do better the next time.
  • Preparation helps you be spontaneous: if you love your content, you have a better chance of connecting and delivering something that is strong.
  • Think of just two or three things that are relatively important to you. Think carefully about what it is you’re doing. Think of a couple soundbites or a couple key messages that establish your credibility and use those soundbites when you speak in front of people or are informally meeting someone at a networking event.
  • My old boss led with fear and intimidation. If you couldn’t articulate what you wanted to say within a few sentences, he kicked you out of his office. He was so tough, and so difficult, that I worked really hard to please him and I took the time to give him what he needed. I would prepare and over prepare and analyze and overanalyze. I would give him what he needed, and, in appreciation of that, he continued to push me even harder. I got to a certain skill and level of competency that I didn’t think was achievable. When he was asked to leave the company, I ended up writing him a hand-written note to say thank you for pushing me. He came down to my floor, and said, “No one’s ever done this before – thank you.”
  • When I look at people with big egos and big bravados who think they know everything, enable them, so that they continue to think they know everything. But, make sure to stay assertive. Be true to who you are with your work product and your personality.

The CVCA encourages all its members to be active in the education system to promote the sustainability of a healthy Canadian private capital industry. Share your experiences with us today by contacting us here.

If you would like to submit an idea for content, contribute to an article, or are interested in submitting an op-ed, contact the CVCA’s editorial department here.