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Inspired by Sikh faith, DePaul graduate leveling gender disparities for finance majors

Meet the Class of 2021: Seerat Kaur Kaler

​​CHICAGO — When Seerat Kaler sees a need, she doesn’t stop until there’s progress. As a sophomore at DePaul University, she used an internship lunch-and-learn at the banking and financial services firm CIBC U.S. to present about her Sikh culture and religion. Two years later, after noticing a lack of opportunities for women in finance, she co-founded the DePaul Females in Finance Initiative, which grew from eight members to 60 and built an endowment in just a few months.

Seerat Kaler
This June, Seerat Kaler will graduate from DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in finance and minors in economics and industrial organizational psychology. (Photo courtesy of Seerat Kaler)
This June, Kaler will graduate from DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in finance and minors in economics and industrial organizational psychology. Following graduation, she will rejoin CIBC U.S. as a member of its full-time commercial banking training program.

Kaler spent her college years putting DePaul’s Vincentian mission into practice by pursuing ways to nurture the university’s inclusive community of learners and doers. While her time at DePaul is coming to end, she’s leaving a lasting impact.

“My goal at DePaul these last few years has been to pay it forward,” she said. “I believe knowledge should be shared, which is a key goal of the Females in Finance Initiative. I want to leave DePaul having made a transformational impact on people and their careers. That’s what will make me the happiest.”

Boosting DePaul women in finance
Walking into on-campus finance clubs early in her DePaul career, Kaler couldn’t help but notice she was often one of the only women in the room. While Zooming during the pandemic with some of her Keeley Center Academy cohort classmates, the group of eight decided to co-found the DePaul Females in Finance Initiative​ to empower women pursuing careers in financial services.

Since the group’s founding before the start of fall quarter 2020, membership has boomed to more than 60. The group started an endowment that’s expected to grow to $250,000 by 2024-25, launched DePaul’s fastest funded crowdfunding campaign, and enlisted 15 Chicago-area companies like Morgan Stanley, BMO Harris Bank and HSBC to support the initiative.

“Our group is trying to play a small role in advancing gender parity by raising awareness of the issue, boosting community and allyship, expanding knowledge to reduce the confidence gap, and creating strong future female leaders in finance,” said Kaler.

Seerat Kaler Family
Seerat Kaler (left) with her family. Back row (l-r): Father, Jaspal Kaler. Mother, Vippan Kaler. Front row: Brother, Ransher Kaler. Sister, Gurmaan Kaler. (Photo courtesy of Seerat Kaler)
Highlighting this need is a Women in the Workplace​ report released in 2020 by the management consulting firm McKinsey, which said “company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well represented at the top.” Yet, they found that women account for only 19% of C-suite executives while women of color account for a mere 3%.

Over the course of its first year, the organization has teamed up with industry partners to provide many opportunities for members to acquire new knowledge in the finance arena, along with opportunities for growth. Activities were intentionally designed to help members build confidence and poise, a proven strategy to help empower this group of future leaders, said Heather Bosworth, associate director of academic programs & student services in the Driehaus College of Business and advisor to the Females in Finance Initiative.

Bosworth gives a lot of credit for the early success of the group to Kaler. “From the early days as one of the primary visionaries, to building a solid organizational framework, and then bringing it to life with full-scale implementation, not one detail was overlooked,” Bosworth said. “Seerat’s keen focus on the organization’s sustainability and future impact has served as a great inspiration to others, empowering the next group of leaders to follow in her footsteps.”

Kaler’s intellectual curiosity and drive to make a difference impressed Martin Essenburg, senior instructor in the Driehaus College of Business and executive director of the John L. Keeley Jr. Center for Financial Services.

“In my time interacting with her as both an instructor in banking courses and as program director of the Keeley Academy, Seerat has displayed a real desire to reduce prejudice and discrimination by building awareness,” he said. “Her work with both Females in Finance and Keeley Academy has been really impactful at DePaul.”

Sharing the Sikh experience
Kaler’s dedication to inclusivity extends beyond DePaul’s campus. While interning at CIBC U.S., Kaler noticed a lack of diversity on her office floor. She asked to lead a lunch-and-learn, where she presented to her co-workers on her Sikh heritage, culture and perspectives.

“I had a great response from my colleagues and now the company includes Sikh holidays on the calendar alongside other religious holidays,” said Kaler.

Growing up outside of Chicago more than 7,000 miles away from Moga, the small Indian village where her parents were born, Kaler turns to her Sikh faith — the world’s fifth-largest organized religion — to ground her life. It’s also what has driven her work to level gender disparities.

“The core tenants of the religion itself tell us to serve others with no bias and no discrimination,” she said. “If we embrace people with love and not hate, we will get further as a world and a society.”


Media contact:
Russell Dorn
312-956-7126 cell​​