Shannon Pestun grew up in an entrepreneurial family that owned a medium-sized business, giving her the first taste of what owning a business was truly about. Fast forward to today, we know her as the Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship at ATB Financial, and as ‘A Girls Biz Banker’ online where she advocates for women's entrepreneurship and shares financial advice and mentorship with her followers. In her role, Pestun is working within the financial industry to re-imagine the systems and supports that influence the success of women entrepreneurs. Staying on top of Canada’s dynamic entrepreneurial environment, Pestun recognizes the important role women play in the economy.
“The entrepreneurial landscape is changing, and women are a big reason for that change, “says Pestun. “Today, more women than ever are pursuing entrepreneurship.”
For Pestun, a key piece of encouraging more women to start and grow their businesses is to better understand the systemic and attitudinal barriers women face, and that includes looking at how the financial sector can be a catalyst for women’s success.
“Banks and investors play a critical role in the success of any business. By better understanding how we can break down barriers, we can play a more meaningful role in helping women reach their full potential.”
An accidental banker
Pestun wasn’t always clear on what her career path would look like, though she was always drawn to supporting others. A curious mind, she pursued an education in business and marketing and worked in a number of different industries before pursuing a marketing career at ATB Financial. Pestun refers to herself as an accidental banker.
"I never imagined I'd become a (business)banker," she says. "I've always been passionate about marketing, but something from within kept pushing me towards a career where I could work more closely with entrepreneurs."
This feeling motivated her to move to a role managing relationships with small- and medium-sized enterprises across the province where she spent the next six years working closely with entrepreneurs- as a banker. It was in this work that Pestun began to recognize that men and women had different entrepreneurial experiences. Her curiosity led her to examine the attitudinal and systemic forces that affected these differences, and where the financial industry could be a driver for change. It was at this point that she started advocating for a different type of experience for female customers.
Challenging the status quo
Pestun believes the full and equal participation of women in the economy is essential to Canada’s competitiveness. Women-owned companies play a vital role inCanada’s economy, and yet in Canada today, only 16 per cent of Canadian businesses are majority-owned or led by women. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality could add up to $150 billion in incremental GDP by 2026.
“We have to create systems where more women can start and grow their businesses,”says Pestun. "And that means asking what role we (as an entrepreneurial ecosystem) can play in breaking down the barrier’s women face when accessing financial, social and entrepreneurial capital."
Build her business
The programs she has worked to create at ATB Financial for these female entrepreneurs emphasize getting past the barriers women need to overcome to be successful. One such program is the ATB Financial Build Her Business Crowdfunding initiative. The Build Her Business initiative is a crowdfunding program where women in Alberta can bring their ideas to market and through a crowdfunding campaign, have people fund their ideas in exchange for a reward. In addition to the platform, participants are also given access to role models and educational resources. Crowdfunding allows women to validate their product, increase awareness, test pricing strategies, get pre-sales - all of which in turn can help them get future lending from banking institutions. In the inaugural Build Her Business campaign, 86 per cent of the campaigns were successful, raising an average of $12,000 each, and a record of $66,000 for one campaign.
Encouraging women to take risks
Shannon asks women to take risks every day – to dream big, take chances and be willing to put their ideas out there. She also encourages women to enter programs like the ATB Build Her Business campaign to help them get started. She believes that, as women, we often hold ourselves back and like to make sure we have everything lined up perfectly before we allow ourselves to get to the next level, and that means we often miss big opportunities.To take risks and trust in ourselves will push us closer to success. She also believes that financial acumen is important for women in business.
“Knowledge is power. Mastering the numbers allows entrepreneurs to make sound and quick decisions. That goes for women working in businesses. The glass ceiling is easier to get through when you understand the financial aspects of business and entrepreneurship.”
The only Albertan and representative from the financial sector, Shannon is one of seven members on the Women's Entrepreneurship Expert Panel which is part of the Government of Canada's Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. The strategy looks to double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025. When she’s not being an advocate for women in business, speaking at events, mentoring, or being ‘A Girls Biz Banker’ online, Shannon is an Alberta girl at heart, changing from heels to boots and spending her time as an equestrian rider.
The next round of the ATB Build Her Business campaign begins in November to continue to support Alberta’s talented entrepreneurs and innovators.