Rachel Megitt, Managing Director and Head of Business Transformation Canada for RBC Capital Markets, has a passion for educating young women on the opportunities available to them in business. It is this passion that has driven the creation of the Ladies Who Lunch program at RBC.

Do the decisions you make at 15 affect your future? Rachel Megitt, the brains, heart and soul behind Ladies Who Lunch, believes they do. “In high school, we are required to make choices in terms of the academic courses we take. These choices have ripple effects that follow us into university and ultimately our careers,” she says. “For instance, if a student decides that Grade 11 math doesn’t appeal to them, choosing not to take that course would likely affect their ability to study business, economics, or engineering in post-secondary school, where math is a pre-requisite.”

Ladies Who Lunch, founded by Megitt in 2014 (as an initiative completely outside her regular job), is driven around the need to have conversations with young women in their later years of high school about the opportunities available to them through university and beyond. “We want to make sure they have full visibility, full context, in terms of what careers and opportunities look like – as well as the underlying education needed to pursue those opportunities,” explains Megitt.

Ladies Who Lunch 2020

At the most recent Ladies Who Lunch event, nearly 100 Grade 11 students from across the GTA arrived at Royal Bank Plaza for a few hours of networking, learning, and powerful conversations. Following a tour of the trading floor, students were given the chance to network with senior leaders from RBC Wealth Management and Capital Markets. Formal opening remarks were extended by Senior Vice President of Leadership Development, Kelly Pereira, who had words of inspiration and encouragement for the young women in attendance.

“Do something that you really want to do, that you’re passionate about, excited about,” she encouraged. Admitting that “we all feel pressure to make decisions sooner rather than later,” Pereira advised that you don’t have to have it all figured out from the start. “You can build skills and give yourself other opportunities.”

She also offered insight on how things work at RBC. “RBC women come from a variety of backgrounds, performing different roles – from trading, investment banking, technology and operations, sales, marketing, corporate communications,” she said. “Don’t think about banking in a narrow way. Think about it in the broadest way possible. It takes a lot of different people to make a company like this work. We’re not just one thing and one job.”

Reclaiming the Phrase Ladies Who Lunch

The term Ladies Who Lunch is outdated language once used to poke fun at a leisurely lifestyle of long lunches by women not in the workforce. “We’re taking the term back and making it about powerful conversations among women,” says Megitt.

The lunch itself involves a one-on-one dialogue between a student and an RBC employee, who is sharing their experiences and time to pay it forward to the next generation. Held in the large, bright rooms of Royal Bank Plaza’s executive 40th floor, duos are given the space to engage and focus on their conversations, without feeling like they are alone in a room with a stranger.

“We focus on making it a comfortable, engaging environment,” says Megitt, who has clearly thought of everything – including conversation starters she places at each table. “But nobody ever uses them,” she admits, as students and hosts quickly become engrossed in conversation about school, business, career, leadership, family, Stranger Things, and more.

While the objective of Ladies Who Lunch is to give students insight into what a career in finance and business looks like, Megitt is quick to say that the outcome is not intended to be 100% clarity. “A career in business may or may not be for these students – but ultimately, Ladies Who Lunch aims to empower young women to make conscious decisions about their future based on insight and information – rather than defaulting to what might be familiar or comfortable.”

The Impact on Students

This year, 95 students arrived from 19 different GTA high schools, across the public, private and Catholic boards (numbers were slightly down from previous events given work-to-rule actions across all school boards). There are no formal criteria for the invitation, as Megitt leaves it up to the teachers to determine who comes. For some schools, it’s a first-come-first-serve sign-up, while others hand pick the participants.

Austin Pool, teacher at Weston Collegiate, brought 9 girls in their school’s second year of participating in the event. He personally selected participants who demonstrate leadership qualities. “These girls are leaders in the school, motivated, keen to learn. They are students with an exploratory spirit who would greatly benefit from understanding what opportunities exist in the world,” he said.

Adrienne Kennedy, who teaches business and entrepreneurship classes at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, also selected students who have an appetite for business and would be most interested in seeing the opportunities that exist in the corporate world. “Not all our students pursue a career in the arts, and those who do will often combine art and business,” explains Kennedy.

And what kind of impact has the event had on the students? “I’ve had students in the past who had chosen an arts path, but after this event added science, math or business as a minor, just to round out their skills,” Pool said.

In speaking with the students themselves, they couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the event, and grateful for this opportunity to learn about business, the corporate world, and RBC as a company.

“There is so much to RBC that I didn’t know about,” said one student from Weston Collegiate. “I thought RBC was just a bank – I didn’t know there were so many different areas here. My lunch partner is in technology – I didn’t even know they did that here!”

Other students learned what it’s like to be in a male-dominated field. “She taught me about the value of having different perspectives, and how the bank values that,” shared one student.

A young woman from Havergal College, meanwhile, took Kelly Pereira’s messaging to heart, which was reinforced for her during her lunch. “I come from a competitive, driven school, where everyone has a plan and all their next steps charted out,” she said. “I learned that you don’t need to have a plan right now – you can do what you love, and the rest will follow.”

The next Ladies Who Lunch is scheduled for the fall, and Megitt has plans to take it back on the road (in 2018 she took the lunch to Calgary, and hosted “Le diner de dames” in Montreal last year).

Demand is high for the event, which has grown from 16 young women in 2014 to its present day count. And for good reason. The chance to learn about the opportunities that exist beyond school, discover the great number of paths that can take you there, and meet the people who make up an organization, is invaluable for young women who are faced with a profusion of choice in the coming years.

“My goal is for young women to be armed and empowered to make decisions based on insight into what drives them,” says Megitt about the role she has taken on in equipping students with new information. “It all comes down to knowing what you want. And sometimes, knowing what you don’t want is just as meaningful.”

Diane Amato is a Toronto-based freelance writer who loves to talk about finances, travel and technology.

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