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Inspiring leaders

Leading with intention

CWB’s Jenny Siman reflects on her 15-year journey with the organization and authenticity’s role in supporting inclusion in work and life.

Growing up with two sisters and a brother, Jenny Siman says her parents always set an equal expectation for them to succeed, be kind to others – and have a voice. 

"Even before my career began, I was raised by a very strong woman. My mom’s pretty phenomenal,” says Siman, VP & Market Lead for Canadian Western Bank’s Vancouver District. “From a young age, my parents raised us all the same. We were all expected to do well and treat others well. And I think my brother would say all the women in the family are pretty vocal and don’t hold back on their opinions.”  

Siman recently celebrated 15 years at CWB. Over the course of her 25-year career in banking, she’s worked her way up from an entry-level position to her role today overseeing one of the Bank’s largest districts. 

“Sometimes I kind of pinch myself, like how did I get here?,” says Siman. “Then I pause and reflect. Ok this is my job, this is what I do, I got here.” 

While Siman says the road to “here” has been largely positive, there were times early in her career where she encountered a few eye-openers as a woman coming up in the predominantly male world of commercial banking. 

She says for her, the bias she encountered as a female was generally unconscious rather than intentional. Things like a disconnect between words and actions when it came to praise versus promotion. And once, when presenting to a room of male colleagues, jokingly being asked if she had baked cookies for everyone. 

“It wasn’t even just did I bring cookies, but did I bake them,” says Siman, who laughs when she recalls her response. “So I said ,‘No I didn’t, did you?’ And the whole room just howled and it broke the ice. I don’t believe it was meant to be offensive, but it stuck with me. I mean today, 20 years later, I still remember how that felt.”

Siman’s quick retort in that situation reflects a wit, bluntness and realness that lends to her strength as a leader. A naturally curious person, she cites an openness to learn and understand others as something she practices daily to support an environment of inclusion both at work and in her personal life. 

“Whether it’s with your team or when engaging with a client, you need to look beyond your own perspective – and really seek out ways to do that – because that’s where bias can lay hidden,” says Siman. “So it’s about listening relentlessly, seeking to understand what’s going on, and really hearing what people are saying about their experiences, and then acting from a place of thoughtfulness and intention. It’s in that action that the real difference is made. As I found early in my career, you can just feel it in your gut when there’s a disconnect between what someone says and what they do – and I think you also run the risk of overlooking someone’s potential when you’re not paying attention to actually seeing them and all they could be.” 

CWB’s commitment to putting their “inclusion has power” value into action is also one of the reasons why it’s such a good fit for her, says Siman. This includes the opportunity to participate in CWB Women, the organization’s first Employee Represented Group (ERG) that was formed in 2016 to empower and inspire women to take on leadership roles. 

She says those times when CWB leaders saw potential in her that she didn’t recognize in herself have opened the door to not only rewarding roles, but also a rich network of steadfast supporters – both female and male – who are always in her corner. 

“For me it’s been so important to have those strong sponsors who believe in your capability – not just what you’ve done, but what you could do even when you may have personal doubts,” says Siman. “I think that’s key. Just having that network who, while you might not know or believe what you can accomplish, they know you can do it and they believe in you.” 

She says examples of this include being actively kept in the loop while on maternity leave about career advancement opportunities, and leaders setting her up for success with roles that weren’t necessarily on her radar otherwise. 

“When I look at my moves from a deputy role for the BC region, to leading our Vancouver real estate team, to now leading our Vancouver district team…with all of them, I’ve been encouraged to stretch myself, apply my experience, and really grow in new areas.

When I think about it, I think beyond believing in me and giving me the opportunities, it’s also the follow through. The on-going leadership support, the check-ins, the constructive feedback. It’s about amazing leaders that stay in the picture and don’t forget about you.”

The thing about great leaders is that they develop other great leaders. Siman’s team benefits from her desire and ability to connect and, as she says it, to just be real. She says this includes getting comfortable with vulnerability, being willing to not only give but to accept help, and to take ownership of how you impact others. 

“I think when you’re in a leadership position you’re expected to always have it together. But sometimes you just don’t and it’s important to acknowledge it, own it and have that self awareness. Don’t be afraid to say, hey I’ve reflected on this and maybe I didn’t react in the best way, or I didn’t intend for it to come across like that,” says Siman. “That’s how you create trust with your team, which is so crucial because leaders' jobs are so big. Your team needs to know you have their back, and that you also need them to have yours. That when there are wins, the team’s the hero – and when there are issues, as a leader you’re going to be first in line to support them.”  

When it comes to seeking and offering support as a female leader, Siman stresses the importance of women lifting each other up versus competing. She’s built her own personal and professional network over many years and says it’s not just about celebrating wins, but also about holding space for vulnerability.

“Especially over the past couple of years, things have been really hard. So asking for space and giving space to acknowledge that can really help,” says Siman. “It doesn’t have to be upbeat all the time, especially when things just aren’t. Sometimes just opening a conversation with, ‘You know what? Things are really tough right now’, you can just feel people do a big exhale. It’s giving them permission to feel what they’re feeling. And yes, you don’t want to get stuck in a negative loop, but I think it’s important to be real about how things are going and how people are doing.” 

Siman’s authenticity is a cornerstone of her proven track record in what can sometimes be viewed as a traditionally male-dominated sector. Asked what advice she’d give to women who are starting or looking to advance their careers, she says she can’t emphasize enough the importance of not limiting yourself. 

“Fifteen years ago when I started at CWB, I remember meeting with a leader and he said someday I could be running the Vancouver district. I thought, yeah right. At the time I didn’t believe it. Don’t put those limits on yourself. Whether it’s about what your career could look like or what your life could look like, don’t make yourself small,” says Siman. “Recognize your abilities and your power to write your own story. I want to be a mom who’s present. I want a healthy relationship with my husband. I want to stay active on the weekends. I say no to things, and I’ve still been successful in my career. You set the agenda, you set the priorities – and with the help of a strong network you can accomplish the things that will give you a wonderful and fulfilling life.” 

For more information about CWB Women, please contact Co-Chairs: 

Ivy Chia, AVP, Personal Banking
Kelly O'Rourke, AVP & Manager, Credit Support


Listen to Jenny's interview with BIV Today 

As we reflect on two years since the pandemic brought on lockdowns and restrictions, one demographic still carrying a heavier burden in the workforce is women. Data shows most jobs affected by shut downs and restrictions were in industries that women were more likely to work in. So where do we stand in 2022 vs. 2020? Jenny Siman, a vice-president at Canadian Western Bank, joins BIV Today to talk about the impact the pandemic has had on women in the labour force and the need to support women-led businesses.