by Shahed Saleh, FIRST Team 4903 and Girls in STEM Student Advisory Council Member
The true beauty of the human mind is its seemingly boundless ability to learn. When facing adversity with an open mind, it can gain any skill, concur challenges, and develop stronger strategies to add to its arsenal of knowledge. A key catalyst for this is a simple characteristic each individual masters from the day they are born: curiosity.
Ingrid Versnel’s journey is a prime example of the exciting paths one’s life can take when having confidence in the curious conscience within each of us. Ms. Versnel is the SVP and Head of Wealth Management Operations and Technology at RBC, where she oversees and coordinates the global delivery and execution of operations and technology platforms. She has experienced many roles through over 20 years of experience with the enterprise, from being the Managing Director of Global Capital Markets to currently holding a board member position with Royal Mutual Funds Inc. Her career’s odyssey and success are largely due to the undying curiosity she had for all the things she didn’t know; I was enlightened and inspired by her story.
SS: How did you choose your career path?
IV: When I left high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was raised by parents who told me to go to university, and they insisted that I graduate with a profession. I chose Western University, and I eventually started exploring the field of business as my father was a chartered accountant, and I had some background in economics and math. I decided to study for my Chartered Accountant certification. I knew I didn’t want to work in public accounting, but I loved using numbers to drive business decisions. I finally found my way into the capital market space where I had to develop accounting protocols and technologies to support business. I felt vulnerable because I didn’t have the right credentials at the time, but sometimes you need to experiment to figure things out. Experimenting with new skills is helpful as you learn more about yourself.
SS: How did your path end up in technology at RBC?
IV: When I was first hired by RBC, we didn’t have all of the technology we needed to support our newer business. In fact, technology was still a young industry and there weren’t many technology companies at the time. We had to seek out technology companies, consult with them, and then work together to build a foundation that would work for this industry. I didn’t have direct experience with technology but I became to master product expertise, accounting, legal implications and, technology applications. I was constantly exploring. It was an intense time, yet it was so much fun!
SS: How did you become an expert in what you do?
IV: You need to have an intense curiosity to become an expert, and you need a driving desire to understand and figure things out. I basically became an expert because I was curious. It doesn’t feel like effort, if it’s a subject you’re interested in. If you’re passionate and engaged in a subject, it doesn’t matter if you start at the age of 12, 16 or 30, knowledge opens doors to opportunity.
SS: What has helped you become successful in a male-dominated industry?
IV: My experience at Western’s Ivey Business School prepared me immensely. I spent much of my career being the only woman in the boardroom. If you’re thrown into a situation and you realize what it takes to survive, the next time you’re faced with the same situation, it becomes normal. Once you figure out how to articulate yourself and state your opinion, gender is irrelevant in the face of challenge.
People are not going to invite nor give you permission to speak up; you must take your space. I liken it to a family with a big bowl of spaghetti on the table: if you don’t stand up, reach over and take your share, like your brothers are doing, then you can’t eat and won’t have a full belly! So, take your space. I tend to speak loudly on conference calls and in meetings; this is one way I ensure my voice is always heard.
SS: What are your thoughts on inclusion in the workplace?
IV: At RBC, we have certain values that include ideas such as “clients come first”, along with the power of collaboration, diversity, and inclusion. We focus on collaboration, where everyone gets an opportunity to speak. We’re better together than we are apart, because it’s not a competition; your ideas are simply feeding my ideas. The reality is we must find a way to get along with those around us.
Everyone can demonstrate leadership behavior and lead by example. Every single person is exhibiting leadership behavior in some way, we just often don’t see it that way, or we call it something else. We spend a lot of time with our work colleagues – sometimes more than our family members – and if you don’t feel like you’re being valued, that’s a serious problem. We need to encourage understanding that everyone has a right to be treated respectfully. We need to make sure that we’re creating these inclusive environments.
Connecting with Ms. Versnel has taught me that humble inquisition and positive intention together are dynamite that can break down any barrier. How many of us have arrived at a crossroads along our life’s path, looked yonder at the foggy trails ahead, and rejected some of them by defeatedly uttering the words ‘I can’t ’? I know I have given up on opportunities in the past simple because I didn’t think I was strong enough to command that position. Ms. Versnel’s open-mindedness to improve on herself by constantly exploring new skills has proved to me that great leaders aren’t those who claim to know their craft to the finest detail – but rather those who indefinitely continue curiously learning their craft.