Girls in STEM Executive Advisory Council – Interview with Bruce Wannamaker

Bruce and his daughter Amber

Bruce Wannamaker is Vice President and Investment Counselor at RBC PH&N Investment Counsel. He’s also a supporter of FIRST Canada and a member of the Girls in STEM Executive Advisory Council. FIRST talked to Bruce about supporting females in STEM.

FIRST Robotics Canada: How and why did your daughter get interested in STEM fields? 

Bruce: This is a great question and one that is hard to pin point. I think that over time, kids will experience something in life and reflect it back to FIRST, even though at the time they joined, they had no idea of the scope of the impact of this organization. For my daughter Amber, who is now studying biology at Imperial College in London, England, it started when she joined FIRST LEGO League in grade 6. She enjoyed being part of a team which was not athletically-oriented and everyone was able to contribute to the success of the team. I also think that because it was an all-girls team, everyone’s voice and ideas counted equally and she did not have to compete with overpowering boys. She made great friends with others on the team and they continued their journey together. I also think she realized the importance of technology and robotics in the future. I would also have to say that the teachers and mentors are key factors for the kids—having very passionate and engaging mentors in an incredibly interesting activity will certainly help to draw in many kids.

FIRST: Do you feel that your support has encouraged her to continue in this field?

Bruce: I would like to think my support has encouraged her to find what she is passionate about and go after that dream! My approach has always been to encourage her to try new adventures and to instill in her at a young age that she is capable of doing anything that anyone else can do if she focuses and puts her mind towards it. I also encouraged her to find what she loves in life and go after that. Find your passion, your interest, your thirst for knowledge and pursue that. I always supported her initiatives and remain involved with her along the way. I remember many a cold winters being in a skating rink while she learned figure skating. Similarly I attended as a parent all of her FIRST events no matter how far I had to travel; I wanted to be there to share the wins and the losses with her, to help her learn and point out her strengths.

FIRST: Considering your background and experience in the corporate world, what sort of obstacles do you think girls will encounter in a STEM career?
Bruce: I think they will continue to face (in some fields and companies) the discrimination that women have faced for many years. I am fortunate to work with an organization and leaders who respect people for who they are and not what they are. Diversity is very important within RBC and that means a lot to me. So what I have tried to instill in Amber is for her to go and do her best, always put her best foot forward and never be afraid to try. She has all that it takes and she will succeed but only when she tries. Something I would say often is that if you aim for the moon and you fall short, at least they will be amongst the stars. It may be a corny saying but I think the meaning is very powerful.

FIRST: What can we do as a society to work towards more acceptance and inclusion for females in STEM?

Bruce: I think we need to continue to encourage girls to pursue their dreams and not get discouraged when they are faced with challenges and setbacks. Some of the great moments that I have witnessed at FIRST Robotics events is watching teams when presented with challenges and their determination to fix the issue at hand and drive forward. Being able to get back up when life has knocked you down is a very important lesson to learn and I think FIRST and its mentors help kids learn this valuable lesson. I also think that we need continued role models who will advance people no matter what their sex, race, ethnicity, religious views etc. are.

FIRST: Can you think of any companies or male champions who are doing a particularly good job of paving the way for women in STEM?

Bruce: I can say that within RBC, diversity and people first is very important and all of my leaders embrace that fully. We are continuing to strive for a more female presence within wealth management because it is saturated with men. But having the policy in place is not enough, it also needs to be communicated and acted upon which we are doing. I would like to see equal opportunities for everyone and if we start within schools and through groups like FIRST, we should be able to make the necessary changes and progress. I think we want to have girls be presented with opportunities, equally as they would be for boys, and let the girls shine as I believe they can and will. I would not want either girls or boys to ever feel that they received an opportunity because of their sex but rather because of who they are as a person.

Thank you to Bruce for his amazing support of FIRST and the Girls in STEM Executive Advisory Council.