The first episode of Research Chat features an introduction to the project and Olga Kanj, graduate of Lazaridis School of Business and Economics PhD in Management (Finance) speaking about diversity and corporate governance.
The first episode of Research Chat features:
Additional information about the research and transcript (with relevant links) available from wlu.ca/ResearchChat
Research Chat Ep1 Olga Kanj
research, graduate students, Laurier, business, podcast, corporate governance, financial institutions, board of directors, Canada, ethnic diversity.
Shawna Reibling 00:08
Welcome to Research Chat, a podcast where students share about their experiences at Wilfrid Laurier University and their current research findings. I'm your guide Shawna Reibling, a Knowledge Mobilization Officer at Laurier, and in each episode, I will interview a Laurier student who is exploring a specific research passion through their graduate research work.
To begin this first episode, I spoke with Jonathan Newman, Vice President: Research, and Douglas Deutchman, Associate Vice President and Dean, Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to introduce Research Chat, the podcast.
Welcome to you both.
Jonathan, please introduce yourself to listeners.
Jonathan Newman 00:51
Hi, I'm Jonathan Newman. I'm the Vice President for Research at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Shawna Reibling 00:57
Doug, could you please introduce yourself to listeners?
Douglas Deutchman 01:00
Hello, my name is Douglas Deutchman. I have the privilege of being the Associate Vice President Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. As an academic, I'm a conservation biologist and statistician, and I've had the great good fortune of supervising 30 Masters and PhD students and serving on about 100 other committees.
Shawna Reibling 01:21
Jonathan, what do you hope Research Chat can share about Laurier's research community?
Jonathan Newman 01:27
I hope that Research Chat accomplishes at least three things. First, that it helps continue to build our sense of conducting research as a part of a community of scholars.
Second, that it brings out the human element of research in a way that other forms of research communications cannot.
And third, that the students who participate in these podcasts and the accompanying writing program, learn some important and highly transferable communication skills.
Shawna Reibling 01:56
Doug, what do you hope that potential Laurier graduate and post doctoral students take away from Research Chat?
Douglas Deutchman 02:03
Graduate education is changing and the backgrounds and interests of our graduate students are more diverse than ever. A recent study by the University of Chicago highlighted the importance of communication skills for all graduate students. In particular, they focus on improving the training of students to discuss their work to the public and other community stakeholders. The process of making a podcast is a wonderful chance for our students to hone their skills at writing and talking about their own research to a diverse audience.
Shawna Reibling 02:35
Jonathan, can you describe the role of research at Laurier? A particularly the role of graduate students in engaging with generating new ideas and findings?
Jonathan Newman 02:45
Well, graduate students are the foundation of university research. Whether that's because in some fields, research is more of a team effort than an individual pursuit, or because training graduate students animates our individual research programs by creating a thriving, engaged intellectual community. Even the most solitary of academic scholars needs such communities and graduate students are the bedrock of our Laurier a research community.
Shawna Reibling 03:12
Doug, why is it important to you that Laurier graduate students share their research experiences through formats like podcasts?
Shawna Reibling 03:20
As the Dean of Graduate Studies, I have the privilege of seeing the amazing and innovative research done by our graduate students across the entire university. I want our students and the public to hear about this exciting work from the students themselves. I hope our alumni, community partners and the general public get a sense of the rigorous scholarship being done by our graduate students.
Shawna Reibling 03:42
Jonathan, how did the idea of sharing research through a podcast evolve into Research Chat?
Jonathan Newman 03:49
That's a good question. I may be misremembering this, but my recollection is that the podcasting part evolved from discussions I had with Lisa Quinn, the director of the WLU Press. The press is doing some really interesting things with podcasting, particularly peer reviewed podcasts. I think, primed by that conversation, when Douglas Deutchman, Paula Fletcher and I were talking about the companion writing program, we somehow stumbled onto the topic of podcasting, and we all thought it was, well, it was worth a try.
Shawna Reibling 04:21
Do you have anything to add on that Doug?
Douglas Deutchman 04:24
The communication channels our students both listen to and also engage in, has diversified and podcasts have become a very important part of the communication toolkit of any scientist. And we need to make sure that our graduate students can take advantage of that, can build that skill, and learn to reach broader audiences with their work.
Shawna Reibling 04:48
Doug, what do you hope listening to Research Chat can bring to the graduate student experience?
Douglas Deutchman 04:54
The Laurier graduate population has grown by about 75% over the last five years. As we continue to grow, it is essential that we build a sense of community, distinct from the overall Laurier community, a graduate community. The Laurier community is vibrant and exciting, but we need to support and build a sense of peer group and excitement and create bridges across disciplines and campuses, where our graduate students can feel connected to each other.
Shawna Reibling 05:23
Jonathan, is there anything else you'd like to add about Research Chat or research at Laurier that listeners might want to know?
Jonathan Newman 05:31
Well, I hope the students enjoyed the experience. And I hope that our research community supports them in working outside of their comfort zone like this. If we can achieve both of these goals, I'd like to see the program continue in the years to come. So to my colleagues, if you enjoyed these podcasts, or even if you haven't, please feel free to shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and give us some feedback. Hopefully positive but either way, we'd like to hear from you.
Shawna Reibling 05:59
Doug, is there anything else you would like to add about graduate studies at Laurier that listeners might want to learn more about?
Douglas Deutchman 06:05
Graduate education is changing and our graduate population is growing. I hope our podcast provides new and exciting ways for graduate students to reach outside of their academic programs. I hope that listening to the podcast gives our listeners a taste of what our graduate students are doing, the innovative and exciting research that they're doing. And I hope that the students can provide this information in their own words in a way that is really a meaningful connection between the researcher, the student and the listener.
Shawna Reibling 06:36
And what I can say about interviewing all the students is that their engagement and their strong passion for their work really came through and a lot of that has been based on the experiences they've had uniquely at Laurier. They have definitely all shared their passion, their results, and the impact that their research has on the participants in the research and on themselves. Thank you so much for talking with me today.
Douglas Deutchman 07:05
Thank you very much.
Jonathan Newman 07:06
Shawna Reibling 07:22
Now that you've heard why Research Chat exists, Olga Kanj, a Lazaridis School of Business and Economics doctoral student will share more about her experiences at Laurier and her research after this short break.
Olga Kanj 07:53
My name is Olga Kanj. I just completed PhD in finance. I just defended my dissertation at the end of July and completed all the program requirements.
Shawna Reibling 08:04
Who were your supervisors?
Olga Kanj 08:06
My main supervisor was Mary Kelly. And I had Fabrizio Perez and Si Li as committee members.
Shawna Reibling 08:15
Why did you choose Laurier?
Olga Kanj 08:18
Oh, I chose the finance program at Laurier. First, because of research interests, overlap with the professor's of course, which very well matched with my own. And second, because the business school is AACSB accredited and coming from abroad as an international student that was very important and valuating, the quality of the business school. And the third, I preferred Laurier over other universities, which I had been accepted to was because the faculty members and the PhD office at the School of Business were very friendly. They were responsive to my questions and they're very helpful. And that really made a difference for me to judge that this would be the school that I want to be in for the next five to six years - I would have people who would be supportive around me.
Shawna Reibling 09:14
Looking back to your first day in the program, what advice would you give yourself?
Olga Kanj 09:19
I would tell myself what to really expect from the program. And same as I do now telling our incoming students briefly would be: hang on, be patient, work hard and don't give up.
Shawna Reibling 09:35
How has your experience in the program influenced you personally and professionally?
Olga Kanj 09:39
Well, let me start with professionally I really grew a lot as a researcher in all aspects. Previously I would have curiosity and creativity driving my interest in research. Now, I can really focus my research questions in a way that it would benefit the interest of societies. That of course in addition to all the skills on the technical part of conducting and communicating the research. Personally, I believe the PhD program on the personal side, made me more accepting of failures along the way to getting that to a big goal and made me more patient to reach those goals. I understand now more that getting somewhere takes a lot of hard work and it doesn't happen overnight.
Shawna Reibling 10:25
What practices have you found helpful to cultivate success on your educational journey?
Olga Kanj 10:32
I would say reaching out to people in the field asking questions, reading news to get new ideas and, not being afraid to propose ideas for research to faculty members. Also going to conferences and meeting people there. Conferences are a good environment to get a feel of the current research and it motivated me in conducting my own research ideas.
Shawna Reibling 10:58
Is your research part of a larger study? Or did you pursue an individual research question?
Olga Kanj 11:04
Not exactly part of a larger study, but I have other closely related research questions I'm working on, which can collectively get to the conclusions regarding the effect of cultural and ethnic background and diversity of the top management teams and boards on various corporate decisions.
Shawna Reibling 11:22
Your doctoral work explores ways to improve corporate governance to prevent insurance companies from failing. What led you to pursue this topic?
Olga Kanj 11:31
I used to be a banker, after my undergrad studies and before joining the PhD program, and financial institutions are of great interest to me. And after the 2008 financial crisis, there was a lot of blame toward corporate governance within financial institutions, and especially a lot of attention was brought to that diversity could have made financial institutions less risky. And insurance companies are an important player within the financial institutions, where all their business is about managing risk. And it evolves around the trust of people that they keep their promise and providing support to these people at their darkest times. So this is really important to study, insurance companies and financial stability, since it is really vital to the whole society,
Shawna Reibling 12:25
Is the failure of a major insurance company a real possibility in Canada?
Olga Kanj 12:31
Not really for a major one, unless a major catastrophe like an earthquake, a really major earthquake happens that could drain the whole capital out of the industry, or court ruling that requires insurance to pay for business interruption losses for COVID-19, for example, then the entire Canadian insurance, insurance industry could suffer.
Shawna Reibling 12:57
How would a failure like that affect Canadians?
Olga Kanj 13:01
Well, if several insurers fail, that could result in higher premiums, or insurers refusing to insure against risks that caused the major failure of a company or several companies.
Shawna Reibling 13:17
As you said it can help Canadians in their darkest hour.
Olga Kanj 13:20
Yes, that's right. And as such incidences, actually such incident happened after Hurricane Andrew in the US, for example, where several insurance companies failed and others refused to insure or the premiums were very high for the, for insuring against similar catastrophes.
Shawna Reibling 13:43
Why is risk management an important part of the strategic plan of an insurance company?
Olga Kanj 13:49
Risk management is important, because any kind of risk could significantly impact a company's ability to achieve its strategies and business objectives. It could disrupt it or make it unable to be attained at the right time.
Shawna Reibling 14:06
Are there best practices that boards of directors are required to follow to set the overall strategy for an insurance company?
Olga Kanj 14:13
Well, yeah, the Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions, OSFI. It outlines the role and responsibilities of the boards. So, their roles and responsibilities as outlined by the OSFI are to approve and oversee such things as the risk appetite and internal control frameworks, short term and long term business plans and strategies, significant policies and plans, appointment and the performance review of CEOs and their compensations, and the senior management, audit plans internal and external mandate, resources and budgets for the oversight functions. These practices are outlined by the OSFI.
Shawna Reibling 15:01
It sounds like insurance companies and the financial sector overall in Canada is very heavily regulated. Is that unique to Canada?
Olga Kanj 15:09
It's not unique to Canada. Insurance companies are indeed heavily regulated because of their important role in the society and the security or the insurance that they provide for these societies.
Shawna Reibling 15:26
Canada's Bill C-25, requires corporations to provide stakeholders with information regarding the ethnic diversity of directors and members of senior management. What does ethnic diversity mean in this context?
Olga Kanj 15:39
There are no specified categories of ethnicities to report, so the ethnicities are to be reported as management members self identify,
Shawna Reibling 15:49
Is Canada the only country that has this type of legislation?
Olga Kanj 15:53
No. In the US, the US House of Representatives recently passed the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, which requires companies to annually disclose gender, race and, ethnicity of their directors, nominees, and senior executive officers. And in the UK, the Parker Review Committee released its report on ethnic diversity of UK boards on October 24, 2017, which recommended that boardrooms of the UK's leading public companies increase the ethnic diversity of the UK boards.
Shawna Reibling 16:30
Can you tell me a bit more about why Bill C-25 was created?
Olga Kanj 16:35
Bill C-25 is an act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act and the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act and the Competition Act. It was introduced in September 2016 on behalf of Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. This Bill amends Canada's primary legislation governing federally regulated commercial entities, including corporations, cooperatives and, not-for-profit organizations, and its aim is to improve corporate transparency and business certainty, to reduce regulatory burdens to enhance shareholder democracy and participation, and to improve diversity and womens' representation on corporate boards and in management positions.
Shawna Reibling 17:33
In your research, you found that changes in ethnic diversity among board members affect corporate decisions. Can you explain a little bit more about why that might be the case?
Olga Kanj 17:44
So in my research, and other related projects that I did, I find that this effect is due to the differences in the values of the board members, which they inherit from their cultural backgrounds, where they can approach or make decisions differently because of these cultural values that they have.
Shawna Reibling 18:09
What benefits would Canadians see from boards with greater ethnic diversity?
Olga Kanj 18:14
As I find in my research, the diversity lowers the risk and improves the performance of insurance companies specifically. And this creates a healthier business environment, which benefits the economy as a whole in having safer companies with better performance.
Shawna Reibling 18:34
If board ethnic diversity improves company performance, why aren't more companies pursuing policies to create diversity within their workforce?
Olga Kanj 18:43
Well, actually they are. There is a lot of pressure, and companies are spending millions to increase diversity. For example, Newkirk in her new book, Diversity Inc., mentions that Google spent a hundred and fourteen million ($114M) on diversity programs in 2014, and a hundred and fifty million ($150M) in 2015. A lot of companies are spending similar amounts of money to increase their diversity and improve inclusion.
Shawna Reibling 19:16
Is it working?
Olga Kanj 19:18
Newkirk, in her book, criticizes that, that it's not quite working as expected, and that the amounts of money spent are not justified. But if time is given and, depends on the levels of diversity, maybe we will see the implications in more companies.
Shawna Reibling 19:41
How should Canadian insurance industry regulators work to increase ethnic diversity on corporate boards?
Olga Kanj 19:48
Well, I think the OSFI, Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions, can incorporate ethnic diversity into their corporate governance guidelines that are in place. The same way they put the board size, chair and board committee chairs to be independent, and so on.
Shawna Reibling 20:06
So, let's say they did do that. How quickly would that affect the composition of boards?
Olga Kanj 20:13
Depending on how the guidelines were set, if a certain quota was placed on how diverse the boards should be, the boards could, right away, increase their diversity. And we might see results, the next year of decisions made by the diverse board, or at least changes in decisions.
Shawna Reibling 20:41
And what would you expect to see the effect on the performance of the firms?
Olga Kanj 20:46
Well, based on the results of my research, I expect the performance to improve.
Shawna Reibling 20:52
And what would that look like?
Olga Kanj 20:54
It would be reflected in better revenues and higher returns for the companies.
Shawna Reibling 21:03
Do you have any future plans in this research area?
Olga Kanj 21:07
Yes, I'm already working on the effect of diversity and cultural background on other corporate decisions such as CEO compensation and innovation. And I have plans to look at other various corporate decisions.
Shawna Reibling 21:23
Based on the research you've done, what do you expect to find?
Olga Kanj 21:27
Regarding innovation, diversity could improve innovation or increase innovation because diversity is believed to avoid unison of thought, which, in turn, would bring more ideas on the table. But I do not have certain expected results regarding the CEO compensation because I'm looking at the co-ethnicity of board members and the CEO. And there could be two expected directions - there could be discrimination, or there could be a communication issue.
Shawna Reibling 22:08
Do you think your findings about diversity on corporate boards of directors could be applied to industries broader than the insurance or the financial industry?
Olga Kanj 22:18
Yes, I think the results could be generalized to other industries, because such corporate decisions as risk management, or performance, or innovation affect all companies and not only insurance companies. And these decisions are made or overseen by the board members, which are there in every company, not only insurance companies, or financial institutions.
Shawna Reibling 22:48
Thank you very much for speaking with me today.
Olga Kanj 22:51
Thank you for the questions and for highlighting the research that I think is very important at these times. There is a lot of debate about diversity, a lot of talk about diversity in the COVID times and how important it is and on understanding the employees circumstances and, eventually maybe the performance of companies. So, I think it is a very important issue and aspect that is there in current corporations.
Shawna Reibling 23:35
I hope you enjoyed this discussion of diversity and corporate governance in Canada. Please subscribe to Research Chat on your favorite podcast player to hear new episodes. Visit wlu.ca/researchchat to read a follow up article, show notes, and related links. Research Chat is a partnership between the Office of Research Services, the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and the Laurier Library. Thank you to everyone who's contributed to the creation of Research Chat. A gratitude list can be found on our webpage.