Study finds no progress breaching top ranks despite industry’s employment growth

June 23, 2009

Dana Flavelle
Business Reporter

Stunned silence, groans of recognition and occasional laughter greeted the disappointing data and frank talk yesterday about women and the glass ceiling on Bay Street.

While Canada’s banks have made progress promoting women in their other lines of business, in the rough-and-tumble world of stock and bond trading and private wealth management, they have made “virtually no gains,” a study shows.

Part of the problem is the industry’s lingering image as dominated by a “cigar-chomping group of men” where everyone works 15-hour days, Lynn Kennedy, managing director of foreign exchange for BMO Capital Markets, told a blue-chip luncheon at the King Edward Hotel, where the report was released yesterday.

The idea women need to network after office hours to get ahead is probably overrated, Kennedy added. “In those networks, I think we think a lot more goes on than actually does,” she said to a burst of laughter. “I like to think I’m recognized for what I do during the day.”

Still, stunned silence greeted the revelation that the latest study by Catalyst Canada found women have made no progress even as employment in capital markets at the management level grew 12 per cent to 16,300 during an eight-year period ending in April 2008.

Despite the stated support of senior bank executives, women remained stuck at 17 per cent of all senior managers, those with jobs that lead to a shot at the corner office, the study found. They made up 21 per cent of all middle managers. Even when support staff are taken into account, women make up just 40 per cent of employees.

“To say we are reporting progress would be overstating the data and before you blame the recession, the data was collected before it began,” said Catalyst Canada vice-president Deborah Gillis.

“The truth is women have made virtually no gains,” she added, sparking audible groans from an audience of 250 men and women who work in the capital markets industry. “There is still no one holding the title of chairman, president or chief executive officer.”

Indeed, women may have lost ground since the credit crunch that began in the United States sparked a global financial meltdown and sweeping layoffs in the investment industry, the study’s main client said in an earlier interview.

“We don’t even know the impact of the enormous financial crisis. It’s a huge concern for me,” said Martha Fell, chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets.

There is debate in some circles that more women at the top would have prevented the kind of testosterone-fuelled risk-taking that caused the financial crisis, Fell added. “I’m not saying I agree with that, but it makes you stop and think.”

Catalyst Canada has long argued that presenting the data would lead to change and Fell said she is personally convinced that’s the case.

However, she acknowledged in an interview the fact that four highly publicized studies of women in capital markets in eight years have produced little change raises disturbing questions.

“How the heck is this possible? Everything we’re doing suggests we should have moved the dial by now,” said Fell, whose non-profit advocacy group works with women to help them get ahead.

At least one bank, TD Financial Group, defended its record, saying women had made good progress in its other lines of business