Women Leaders in the Benefits, Pensions, and Institutional Investments Industry | Elite Women

Creating a brighter future

Benefits and Pensions Monitor names 45 influential women leaders to its inaugural 2024 list of Elite Women, a passionate cohort dedicated to breaking down barriers and raising standards in the financial services sector. 

“The industry overall has evolved, yet we still have a long way to go,” reflects Roxana Nache, a national director of wealth at Canada Life, who commented on this year’s report. “We need to be each other’s greatest allies and cheerleaders.”  

This year’s Elite Women are at the forefront of the Canadian benefits, pensions, and institutional investments industry. They are leading with authenticity, they value diversity, and they are helping to reshape industry standards for the next generation of women leaders by:

  • prioritizing gender equality and equity

  • promoting an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive

  • emphasizing mentorship

  • achieving extraordinary results for their organizations

  • breaking new ground on products and solutions


As the following five award-winning women leaders illustrate, their achievements and impact transcend traditional practices and norms.

Helen Hurlbut – Equiton
Co-founder and CFO

Drawing on her three decades of transformational leadership in the real estate business, Hurlbut seized an opportunity nine years ago to establish private equity firm Equiton, an emerging leader in Canada’s real estate investment space.

Since the beginning, she has consistently prioritized inclusion and team empowerment while delivering remarkable growth:

  • the company now boasts over 190 employees after beginning with three staff

  • Equiton reached a milestone of $1 billion assets under management within a decade of launching

In support of her nomination for BPM’s Elite Woman award, a former direct report acknowledged, “Helen has a vision for more than just the numbers. She has always been invested in the professional growth of her team, often setting lofty and challenging goals to which they can rise.” 

It’s no surprise that Hurlbut cites leading Equiton’s team on its growth journey as rewarding. She also finds joy in seeing the smiles on employees’ faces as she walks the halls, a testament to her dedication to building a diverse workforce where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. 

“In the real estate industry, female representation is less common,” Hurlbut remarks. “It’s important to me to make women feel they have the chance to thrive and achieve their goals.” 

Helen Hurlbut Equiton
“Through my own actions, I’m working to improve this industry for the better. By empowering more women to rise, we’re going to see a meaningful and positive transformation”
Helen HurlbutEquiton


Christina Iacoucci – BGO
Head of Canada and Canadian CIO

As the first female CIO and head of Canada in BGO's 100-year history, Iacoucci has broken barriers and now serves as an inspiration to aspiring women leaders in the real estate investment space. 

With more than 30 years of experience in commercial real estate, Iacoucci’s accomplishments underscore her commitment to pushing boundaries:

  • creating and overseeing the Innovation Lab at BGO, which focuses on strategic property technology investments in support of the firm’s ESG goals

  • continuously raising the bar on sustainable real estate investing and innovation initiatives; this has become one of the hallmarks of her leadership

“The most rewarding aspect of my work is leading and collaborating with my team, who incorporate diverse perspectives while seamlessly integrating innovation, sustainability, and positive social impact on the asset that we build and manage for our clients,” she explains. “It’s not just about enhancing the built environment around us but also enhancing the experience of the people these assets impact.”   

Iacoucci also embraces the opportunity to share her story of personal and professional challenges with partial deafness to help others face their obstacles with strength and resolve. 

She firmly believes that these challenges should not define one’s potential, and, with the support of an important mentor, Iacoucci was able to build a rewarding career. She continues to be actively engaged in speaking engagements despite some of the challenges her hearing loss poses.  

“The ability to positively influence others with my story is worth the initial discomfort I felt in sharing it because it teaches others that self-imposed limitations are the only real barriers.”

Christina Iacoucci BGO
“My goal is to help shape an industry that thrives on diversity, mentorship, and a commitment to creating sustainable spaces that truly serve the diverse needs of people”
Christina IacoucciBGO


Gayle Shurvell – Alberta Health Services
Director, employee benefits and retirement programs

Regarded by her peers as a resilient, caring, and compassionate leader, Shurvell’s passion for delivering group benefit programs of the highest standards is unparalleled. She wears two operational hats in her current role, including supporting the trustees of the Health Benefits Trust of Alberta (HBTA). 

Over a 35-year career, Shurvell has honed a forward-thinking leadership style that has catapulted her to the top of her field. Her recent achievements are a testament to the positive contributions she has made:

  • introducing the At-Work Services program, in collaboration with Canada Life, to participating HBTA employers and employees; this early intervention tool supports employees at risk of disability, prevents disability claims, and identifies non-medical issues in the workplace

  • strengthened the governance and related education for the HBTA

In support of Shurvell's nomination, a colleague commented, “Gayle is a visionary and always thinks about innovative ways to serve HBTA participants better while sustaining its programs. Her motto is, ‘Not if, but how, we can make things happen’.”  

Beaming with pride, she reflects on the team she has built over her eight years on the employer side of the group benefits, pensions, and institutional investments industry. Shurvell emphasizes that she ensures everyone feels valued, connected, and supported. That has translated into high talent retention, comprised of people passionate about the organization’s mandate. 

“Get me into a meeting where we’re brainstorming and talking about what the future looks like – that completely inspires me,” she notes, adding that her team plays a crucial role in that process. “Being able to embrace change, adapt, and shift your mindset to long-term goals is key for me.” 

Gayle Shurvell Alberta Health Services
“There are challenges in the financial sector that we all strive to overcome. I’m trying to ensure the road I create for those behind me has fewer bumps along the way”
Gayle ShurvellAlberta Health Services


Anne Meloche – Sun Life Global Investments
Head of institutional business

An actuary by training with over three decades of experience in pension and investment consulting, Meloche has led Sun Life Global Investments’ institutional business team to become the 16th largest pension manager in Canada on the defined contribution side. Its institutional pension assets were $21.2 billion as of Dec. 31, 2023. 

She strives to build strong relationships with colleagues by communicating clearly and encouraging diversity of thought. 

Meloche has been instrumental in paving the way to innovative retirement and investment initiatives and solutions, resulting in meaningful contributions to the financial industry and all Canadians. 

Highlights for which she has received Elite Woman distinction include:

  • initiating and implementing significant and complex changes in the company’s flagship investment product, involving the conversion of $11 billion into institutional pooled funds

  • long-serving board member for the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and its audit committee, where she oversees the foundation’s asset investment policy

“Managing and promoting talent has been and still is the most important quadrant of my leadership success,” she explains. “I’ve always put a lot of energy into building and leading a harmonious team, balancing that with the right dose of managerial courage.” 

Not one to back down from challenges, Meloche has honed an approach that enables her to take a step back to understand what people need to function at their best. She gleaned this strategy from early advice that sparked a turning point in her career and continues to reap dividends.

Anne Meloche Sun Life Global Investments
“I encourage women to explore this industry and discover new interests or skill sets; they’ll have more well-rounded experience, and career progression will be at their fingertips”
Anne MelocheSun Life Global Investments


Marie-Chantal Côté – Sun Life Canada
Senior vice president of group benefits

With a career journey spanning 25 years at Sun Life Canada, Côté has held progressively senior roles across the business. She values diversity and strives to create a space for it in the workplace.  

In 2021, her relentless drive, focus, and commitment to excellence culminated in her appointment to her current position, a testament to her impressive achievements, which include: 

  • spearheading the launch of several research and product initiatives, specifically emphasizing mental health and DE&I

  • under Côté’s leadership, Sun Life offered fertility, surrogate, and gender affirmation coverage

“She believes it’s OK for employees and leaders to reveal vulnerabilities, including struggles related to mental health,” a nominator remarked of Côté’s compassionate leadership. “She’s also passionate about improving the dynamics of workplace equity for women and 2SLGBTQIA+ community members.” 

An unwavering dedication to leading authentically is near and dear to Côté’s heart. She brings her whole self to the office and talks candidly with her team about mental health challenges, as well as her professional experience as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

“"I've always tried to do things that excite me with people who inspire me,” she explains. “I need to feel that I’m doing something meaningful and purposeful because then my passion and strengths come out; boundaries don’t exist anymore.”


Marie-Chantal Côté Sun Life Canada
“When we look back and see all Canadians having access to appropriate health and product solutions for their unique needs, that is the impact I hope to have”
Marie-Chantal CôtéSun Life Canada


Women Leaders in the Benefits, Pensions, and Institutional Investments Industry | Elite Women

  • Andrejka Massicotte
    Head of Group Benefits
    RBC Insurance
  • Carole Field
    Managing Director, Pension Plan at Canadian Pacific Railway
    Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Catherine Ann Marshall
  • Catherine Heath
    Principal, Portfolio Manager - Institutional Clients
    Leith Wheeler Investment Counsel
  • Celine Chiovitti
    Chief Pension Officer
  • Christine Wyatt
    VP, Distribution, Group Solutions
    Empire Life
  • Danelle Brown
    General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
    Ontario Pension Board
  • Gillian Brown
    Executive Managing Director, Capital Markets
    Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan
  • Janet Julé
    Chief Investment Officer
    Saskatchewan Healthcare Employees’ Pension Plan
  • Jennifer Katzsch
    Regional Vice President, Western Canada
  • Jennifer Shum
    Senior Managing Director, Structured & Private Credit, Healthcare
    Ontario Pension Plan
  • Jennifer Urquhart
    Director, Pension Client Services
    NS Health Employees’ Pension Plan
  • Jillian Kennedy
    Canadian Leader of Defined Contribution and Financial Wellness
    Mercer Canada
  • Joan Tanaka
    Consultant/Advisor (Past President)
    Prudent Benefits Administration Services
  • Joanne Woodrow
    Senior Group Retirement Consultant
    AGA Benefit Solutions
  • Ju Hui Lee
    Head of Market Risk
    United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund
  • Julie Joyal
    Director, Edmonton, AB
    Vice President, Pension Services
    Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund
  • Kandrice (Kandy) Cantwell
    Montridge Advisory Group, a Westland Company
  • Kathy T. Licata
    President and Consulting Actuary
    Mondelis Actuarial Servies, wholly owned by NFP Canada
  • Kelly Wilson
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    Saskatchewan Blue Cross
  • Kimberley-Anne Maxwell
    VP, Employer Benefits and Savings Strategies
    Matheis Financial Group
  • Krista Pell
    Chief People, Culture & Engagement Officer
    Alberta Investment Management Corporation
  • Lisa Copland
    Aon Health Solutions, Senior Vice-President – Central Region Leader, Client Relationship
  • Lucie Tedesco
    Director, Board of Directors
    Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario
  • Marie-France Amyot
    Senior Vice President of Group Benefits and Retirement Savings
    Desjardins Insurance
  • Mary Medeiros
    Chief Operations Officer
    Harvest ETFs
  • Natasha D. Monkman
    Chair of Pension, Benefits, and Executive Compensation Practice Group
    Hicks Morley
  • Rachel Arbour
    Head of Plan Benefits, Design & Policy
  • Renee Bilodeau
    Director of Board Services
    BC Pension Corporation
  • Rupe Prasad
  • Sarah Beech
    CEO, Benefits & HR Consulting Division – Canada
  • Sarah Sissons
    Partner and Atlantic Region Lead, Consulting
    TELUS Health
  • Shannan Corey
    Executive Director
    Saskatchewan Pension Plan
  • Susan Bird
    The McAteer Group of Companies
  • Susan Nickerson
    McCarthy Tétrault LLP


As part of our editorial process, Key Media’s researchers interviewed the subject matter expert below for an independent analysis of this report and its findings.



In October 2023, Benefits and Pensions Monitor invited professionals from across the country to nominate their most exceptional female leaders for the inaugural Elite Women list. Nominees had to be working in a role that related to, interacted with, or in some way impacted the financial services industry, and to have demonstrated a clear passion for the benefits, pensions, and institutional investments industry. 

Nominators were asked to provide details of their nominee’s achievements and initiatives over the past 12 months, including specific examples of their professional accomplishments and contributions to the industry as a whole. 

The BPM  team reviewed all nominations, examining how each individual had made a meaningful contribution to the industry, to narrow down the list to 45 Elite Women