The Women on the Board
Pieridae’s Board of Directors is full of experienced and interesting people with backgrounds in energy, science, banking and utilities; industries with legal, financial and capital markets; and risk management professional designations. These are the individuals chosen to set strategy and help guide the Company while protecting the interests of shareholders and stakeholders. Today we are giving you an inside look at that strategic leadership and strategic thought process from our Board Chair and Committee Chairs. Meet the women driving change on Pieridae’s Board of Directors!
Getting Into Board Work
Patricia – “My goal is to understand where governance is going in the future and really lean into it. What is expected today and where it's going to be in five–ten years is light years apart.”
Patricia McLeod serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors. Her path to Board work was not the typical route taken. Fresh out of law school from the University of Alberta, she went west out to Vancouver to article. When an opportunity arose with ENMAX, she happily came back to Alberta and began setting down roots. Her growing interest in strategy drove her to undertake an executive MBA program with Queens University and community board work on not-for-profit boards, finding a joy in it that differed from her day job as a lawyer. At only 45 years young, Patricia decided to follow that bucket-filling feeling and began transitioning to more full-time governance work.
“I wasn't what one would consider a typical candidate. I wasn't retired; I wasn't in my late 50s and 60s; I wasn't a CEO or an operations (P&L accountability) executive. But I still really believed that there was a role for someone with my background, my passion, my interest, my mindset,” said Patricia. Her final transition to full-time board work came when she was elected to the Board of Calgary Co-op; a $1.3 billion company with almost 4,000 employees here in Calgary. There was a need for someone to step into that governance-leadership role and the Calgary Co-op Board asked Patricia to become the Chair after one year. “That was in August of 2017 and I’ve never looked back.”
“There are many who didn't think full-time governance as a career was possible. Once I got into it, I realized I was impacting the long-term viability of organizations, even in the not-for-profit sector. An effective board dramatically impacts each organization’s sustainability, viability, their mission. And I was hooked. I was hooked on the strategy and working with these incredible people.”
Kiren – "My goal is to leverage my financial expertise and energy industry experience to support strategic decision-making, risk management, and the overall financial health and sustainability of the organization."
Kiren has served on Pieridae's Board of Directors since May 2020. With 30 years of corporate finance experience across the energy industry value chain in the upstream, midstream and downstream segments, serving domestic and multinational corporations - she's done it all! "Living through the multiple energy cycles over the past 30 years has given me critical insights into the near-term financial implications of energy and capital market dynamics and enabled me to provide oversight of the long-term financial strategies that align with the company's overall goals and objectives," says Kiren. "I specialized in those areas during my career, and now I can support Pieridae at the board table with my expertise.” In terms of educational background, Kiren has an MBA and CFA. She also completed her professional director's education program and received the ICD.D designation.
Her governance career began by serving on the Government of Alberta crown corporation boards - the Agricultural Financial Services Board and Travel Alberta. She saw how her contributions went beyond corporate finance toward strategy setting and board governance. "The opportunities at those boards helped me transition from an executive frame to a governance frame of reference. By the time I moved to for-profit boards, I was well grounded in corporate governance and had also broadened my industry perspectives to agriculture and destination promotion" says Kiren.
Expanding from her industry and governance knowledge, Kiren also contributes an entrepreneurial viewpoint. In 2017, she founded Haskalife, a functional food company, to introduce the health benefits of Canada's haskap berry to the public. "Founding and leading a company with manufacturing, supply chain, R&D and marketing issues has sharpened my decision-making and made me a better leader. I'm proud to bring this new dimension to my board work," she said.
Kiren's multifaceted background, spanning her extensive energy career, board involvement, and entrepreneurial endeavours, adds a rich tapestry of skills and knowledge to Pieridae.
Gail – “We’re going to put our mind to it and we’re going to find a way… I think we have all the fundamental building blocks and opportunity for growth and strength.”
Gail is another of the new additions to Pieridae’s Board of Directors last year. Her law career began at the Alberta Securities Commission, followed by four years at the Alberta Stock Exchange. Moving from there to a law firm, she gained 14 years of experience in finance, mergers and acquisitions, and takeovers in public companies. One such public company, the Canadian Western Bank, asked her to come aboard as their first general counsel and chief compliance officer. This move had her working quite closely with the bank’s own Board of Directors.
“As a corporate secretary at CWB, I worked with the Governance Committee and sat in on all the board meetings. In addition, each of the subsidiaries held quarterly board meetings and I was appointed to sit on the boards of our trust companies, our insurance company and our wealth management companies,” said Gail. Here, she found her fondness for all things strategic. She joined the board of the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board, and later the board of the Alberta Electric System Operator. When she eventually retired, Gail enjoyed the strategy work so much that she continued seeking out Board positions.
“I sit on three Boards now. I have come full circle, I sit on the Board of the Alberta Securities Commission, where I had my very first job as the executive assistant to the Chairman. I also sit on the board of Meridian Credit Union, based in Toronto and then I am here at Pieridae.” The three Boards all fall into different industries and legal structures, creating an ample diversity of challenges for Gail.
“You're impacting people's livelihoods, their families and their safety. It is work that really matters...there isn't a boardroom I sit in, including Pieridae’s, where the impact of safety and sustainability isn't the prevailing consideration. We [the Board] must be brave and thoughtful and curious and diligent and smart.” - Patricia McLeod
Each Board member has taken a different path on their way to Pieridae, creating a multitude of diverse experiences and philosophies that serve to make our organizational governance stronger.
Patricia – The Philosophy of Service and Conducting
When it comes to chairing, Patricia has two primary goals: helping all members of the Board have their voices heard and building the relationship between management and the Board. “A Chair is like a conductor. The biggest opportunity in chairing comes from holding back my perspective (it’s much harder than it sounds) and conducting the orchestra to make sure that all those other instruments come forward and you can hear them. A good chair, I believe, makes sure that everybody feels like they are part of the decision.” This has been especially important through the Company’s strategic shift last year.
Her second goal comes from the importance of a strong relationship between executive management and Board members. “A very important role for the chair is building that relationship with management and building trust. You get the best information when management really understands the role of the board. Management is so passionate, they spend far, far more than 40 hours a week deeply invested in what they bring forward. And it can be difficult to hear from a bunch of people who pop in quarterly and start questioning,” says Patricia. “The Board wants management to tell them the things that are keeping them up at night and to value the ability of the Board to ‘peek around the corners’. And that's a great outcome. It takes time. It's earned, not granted.”
The essence of Patricia’s leadership philosophy is service. While it can be a paid position that some see as a job, she is adamant about the importance of service, and serving not only the Board but the entire organization. “I'm passionate about it. It's fundamental to the value and the culture of a board. It's not about just shareholder value, it's about employees and it's about community and it's about all the other stakeholders. You serve to ensure the Company best meets the interests of all those interests.”
“You're impacting people's livelihoods, their families and their safety. It is work that really matters. And we notice it as a community, as a society, when boards aren't paying attention. When things go wrong, we wonder: where was the board? Why weren't they thinking about this? And I can tell you there isn't a boardroom I sit in, including Pieridae’s, where the impact of safety and sustainability isn't the prevailing consideration. We [the Board] must be brave and thoughtful and curious and diligent and smart.”
Along with a wide-ranging impact, board work has had to shift its scope to function on a rapidly changing global stage.
“The Company is focusing on what it needs to do in the short term and preparing itself for the medium term. The world timeline used to be that you have a 5-year, a 10-year and a 25-year-plus plan. It doesn’t feel like you can do that anymore. It moves very quickly – but I think if you’re thoughtful and strategic about what you do in a five-year frame, you’ll be ready for the next. And that is my goal in chairing this Board, to help the Company be a strong and contributing part of Alberta’s economy supporting the world’s energy security needs.”
Kiren – Energy Industry Knowledge and Visions for the Future
Kiren’s energy industry and financial knowledge and keen sense of strategic direction have proven her valuable addition to the Board throughout Pieridae’s directional shift. “My energy industry experience was important as we pivoted from an LNG-led strategic direction towards an upstream and midstream company. Initially, I served as the Chair of the ESG committee, then Chaired the Governance Committee and now Chair the Audit and Finance Committee.” Thanks to her knowledge base and mental flexibility, Kiren has had first-hand looks at all the different areas of the organization.
Working together, the Board and management are focused on the new mandate. “We are focusing on how we can efficiently grow our production, manage our costs and participate in energy transition. While expensive to drill and maintain, we are fortunate that we have an extensive footprint in the Foothills area with longer-life resource plays. But there is always a risk and reward tradeoff. I can support board decision-making in efficient capital resource allocation, be it for investments, acquisitions or capital expenditures, and in assessing potential risks associated with various courses of action which is important to the organization's financial growth and stability.”
With experience on two technology company boards that serve the energy industry, Kiren is also excited about leveraging technology to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, enhance safety and support sustainability efforts in the oil and gas industry. “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning powered technologies are used throughout the energy industry. Technology-empowered decision-making will advance and modernize the sector and provide for longer-term sustainability. We have an opportunity to identify areas in our business that can benefit significantly from these technological tools and work to deploy them in support of our strategic goals.”
Gail – Diversity of Thought
Though the oil and gas industry is new for Gail, a year in the saddle has provided many opportunities to learn and to look at things from her perspective.
“It is quite rare in smaller energy companies in Calgary to have people on the Board not from the industry. I really want to give the Board credit that when they decided to bring on new directors, they were looking for that diversity of thought. In my case, I have a lot of experience in functional areas such as risk, HR and governance,” says Gail. With her background predominantly in capital markets and financial services, she knows what to look for. “You bring these other skill sets and viewpoints of how they do it in the insurance world when they are looking at risk. How they look at it in banking. I can answer questions like ‘How are they looking at it?’ and ‘What are other industries doing in this area’.”
“As board members, we work with management to ensure we have a strategy and that we’re executing the strategy. That means thinking through everything that can derail it and prioritizing action items. There is only so much time in a year, you’ve got this list of 200 things you really want to do. Some of them are immediate steps you have to take now, whereas some need to be in five or ten years.” As the Chair of the Governance and HR committee, Gail helps to prioritize those actions and works closely with her management counterpart.
Her focus on risks and risk mitigation is a perfect match for an industry so connected to commodity pricing. “I’m thinking about how can we diversify? Are there different products, a way of tapping into different markets?” Looking at these questions and more helps the organization to capitalize more on the upswing and weather the downswings of the market. While her focus is often on risks, Gail is also excited about the strengths the Company shows for the future.
“There is a can-do attitude for the future and things like carbon management. I certainly see it as a strength. I’ve seen it in our Company; I’ve seen it in Calgary,” says Gail. The growth in cooperation with competitors to figure out carbon management and the future of the energy industry is new, but a step in the right direction. “We’re going to put our mind to it and we’re going to find a way. We have a very strong executive team. The right people with the right attitude. I think we have all the fundamental building blocks and opportunity for growth and strength.”
“A diverse board doesn’t happen by accident. You need to take the time to understand the skill sets and experience required to fulfill the strategic plan. And within those skill sets what is the most optimal combination of board members that you can bring together to contribute value and support the Company’s long-term sustainable competitive advantage. Then you need to identify candidates that fulfill these requirements. This is not easy to accomplish but well within the board's control to achieve.” - Kiren Singh
Diversity and Creating Lasting Change
While here at Pieridae women comprise 37.5% of the Board, the average of Alberta-based companies on the TSX Composite Index is 21%. The women on our Board of Directors are smart, ambitious, accomplished and have firsthand experience in breaking through the statistics.
“Although the number is growing, and the prevailing goal is for women to comprise at least 30% of board makeup, last year the new listings on the TSX and TSXV cumulatively only appointed 19.6% women and I believe approximately 40% of the companies appointed none. So as much as we think this is self-evident, it's not,” says Patricia. “The needle is moving very slowly, and the roles of Board Ready Women and Women Get on Board and other similar organizations are so important to helping women see themselves as board ready and actually put themselves out for it.” When she first started her career in board service, there were no organizations or mentors available for advice. “The evolution to see these organizations come forward and to provide structure and formalized mentoring programs and matching programs to create a roster of board-ready women – that’s a great advancement.”
The growth of mentorship organizations and leaders on boards who understand the importance of diversity is integral for levelling the playing field for other women looking to climb within organizations. “There are implicit and explicit barriers to women putting themselves up for board work, including the value of our time. I really noticed this as I was taking more leadership roles in not-for-profit boards [She was the board chair of the YWCA Calgary and was also Vice Chair of Calgary Economic Development.] These were considerable time commitments while I was also working full-time and raising six- and eight-year-old daughters. I was not being paid for my time, but I was building skills that I needed for the future. It can be pretty overwhelming to put another 10 hours, 20 hours a month into that instead of your kids or your spouse or your parents that you're caring for and all the other pressures that we all have, and I do think women carry this pressure to a greater extent. But without this experience, it can be challenging for women to be considered as viable board candidates.”
On top of her board roles, Patricia spends time mentoring women who are seeking governance opportunities across the country, through the mentorship program with the Calgary ICD Chapter and a separate program run by Women Get on Board. Her advice for those women and others looking to break into the world of strategic board work? “You don’t have to be hard-nosed. You don’t have to be somebody who’s cracked the highest ceilings. You just have to be smart and work hard and most of all, be curious and be brave. Because it takes courage sometimes to make the hard decisions and to put yourself out there where you’re not sure that people are going to listen to you. And being curious is absolutely imperative to this role.”
An echoed sentiment from Kiren, she views diversity as an important piece to have experience and depth on a board. “Having women on boards is a vector of diversity. A diverse board brings together individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints. This diversity can lead to more comprehensive and creative decision-making, reduce the risk of groupthink and encourage innovative solutions to problems. Gail and Patty have tremendous backgrounds in their respective areas. They’re both lawyers, but they’ve had very different experiences and career paths and they bring those different perspectives,” says Kiren. While her professional background falls heavily in the energy and financial category, she also carries differing perspectives from many of her peers.
According to the Diversity Leads Report (2020), racialized persons only represent 4.5 per cent of boards in Canada, even though they make up 23 per cent of the total population. That is a major gap in representation and experiential knowledge that is being lost.
“Dedicating my career to corporate finance in the energy industry based in Calgary, Fairfax and Houston in the 90s and early 2000s was no small endeavour. Invariably I was the only woman in the room and the only person of colour in the room. The industry has changed considerably through my career and I like to think that I contributed to that change. To show up, work hard and have a sense of humour was my MO. Was it easy? Of course not! But these were my choices – I chose energy and corporate finance at a time when there were very few women in either of these fields. My career was diverse and interesting and notwithstanding the obstacles in my way, the industry also gave me opportunities to succeed. Yes, I would do it again!”
“While it is rather self-serving to state that diverse boards are better boards – my considerable experience (and the research on this topic) has informed my point of view that diverse boards are often better equipped to identify and mitigate risks.” A wider range of perspectives allows them to anticipate potential challenges and respond more effectively to unexpected events. Research has shown a correlation between board diversity and financial performance - likely due to the benefits of enhanced decision-making and risk management. “A diverse board doesn’t happen by accident. You need to take the time to understand the skill sets and experience required to fulfill the strategic plan. And within those skill sets what is the most optimal combination of board members that you can bring together to contribute value and support the Company’s long-term sustainable competitive advantage. Then you need to identify candidates that fulfill these requirements. This is not easy to accomplish but well within the board's control to achieve.”
Kiren continues to support women in their journeys through participation in organizations like Board Ready Women, the International Women’s Forum, and the 51 Fund. “The organizations I support focus on supporting diversity, particularly gender diversity. Supporting women entrepreneurs, women’s leadership and ethnic diversity is an important part of my contributions. As a society, we have made tremendous progress from when I started my career, especially more recently, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I want to contribute, to be an enabler of an even better futurestate.”
The value of diversity goes beyond checking a box for a report. As all three women have alluded to, the varied expertise and life experience gained from diversity is where you will find the true power of a board. “Regulators are looking at it like ‘three women, ok, check that, compliance done’ but the real goal is adding strength to the Board, that diversity of thought. Pieridae could see the value in that. They took that leap and there’s been a can-do attitude and real receptiveness. They’re very open-minded, which you need!” says Gail.
Having varied perspectives looking at the same problem will create a better solution, something Gail experienced in one of her courses with the Institute of Corporate Directors. “We went through an exercise where they presented us with a case study and then put us in a group. In our group, we had an HR Executive, an accountant, an engineer and myself. We all read the same case study but from a different angle. We were able to discuss it and I could see where my blind spots were, and that others could see different things, and together we came up with a really superior solution to the issue we were looking at.”
“It was a real eye-opener of the benefit of having different people around the table and being able to have the time to think about it and discuss problems. I think it’s very important.”
Gail is currently mentoring three women through their board journeys. “My advice to so many is to understand your role as a director. Understand your value and your skillset versus the job you have today,” says Gail. There are several other mentoring programs that she has been involved with over her time as a board member, “I have been involved with a number of mentoring programs. I was really involved in one in Edmonton. We ran a program where six companies pooled our resources to help mentor women with 6 to 10 years of experience who were trying to get into middle management. I also was involved with a program trying to get more women lawyers working in-house in companies, to that top general counsel position.”
The diversity of skill sets and perspectives that make up our board of directors is directly tied to the success and value they bring to Pieridae. These leaders, lawyers, bankers, oil industry experts, and mentors; these women are part of what makes our organization strong. In an industry that often looks to tradition, we are looking to the future to lead the way forward.
Advancing women, people of colour and other diverse groups into positions of leadership is of benefit to everyone. "Diversity in leadership not only signals who belongs but is linked to organizational performance." (Diversity Leads, 2020). Our governance practices and decisions are stronger and more effective when they reflect our reality. And our reality is diverse.