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TD chief economist Beata Caranci, photographed at TD Bank Tower in Toronto, is one of the financial industry’s most influential voices.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Beata Caranci never planned on being a role model. When her position as chief economist at TD Bank Group was announced, she avoided questions about being one of the few female chief economists to lead a Canadian bank.

“I didn’t want to make it about my gender because I had worked so hard getting there. I wanted it to be all my accomplishments, what I had achieved,” says Ms. Caranci, who also holds the position of senior vice president at TD.

But an interaction with a woman at an industry event changed her mind. The woman congratulated Ms. Caranci on becoming chief economist and shared some of the difficulties she was encountering in her own career journey.

“That’s when it dawned on me; it actually is important for me to talk about what it is like to be a woman in this field, because it’s important to others that I talk about it, even though for me, it wasn’t prominent in my mind.”

Empowering people isn’t about blazing trails, she explains. “I feel like you help them see their path; you don’t get in front of them, you just help clear the road.”

A drive to help

Ms. Caranci approached her career with an aim to help others. Even when approached with questions that she didn’t know the answer to, she made it her mission to try and find a solution, whether that was by brainstorming herself or connecting people.

“I think that was rewarded over the years, because people saw that I had a great interest in the bigger picture, in solving and strategizing and helping move the organization forward,” she says.

Her early career began in 1998 in the capital markets, providing economic analysis to foreign exchange, money market and bond desks. She joined TD as an economist in 2003. In the years that followed, Ms. Caranci broadened her experience and expertise in the industry – moving into regulatory work, building out effective teams – while taking risks and putting in long hours.

For example, after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, there was pressure to be more embedded in the regulatory requirements of the U.S., she says. Ms. Caranci volunteered to do extra work in that area in addition to her regular responsibilities.

While this kind of initiative was a reflection of her own work ethic, Ms. Caranci says she also benefitted from employers and colleagues who encouraged her to take on new experiences.

“I do work in a very male-dominated field, but many of the folks who were informal mentors or champions of mine are men,” she says. “I was fortunate that I had people who, along the way, continued to see what I was able to offer.”

Towards greater equality

Ms. Caranci was named chief economist and SVP at TD in 2015 and now leads two economic teams – one which delivers forecasts and research publications for clients and another which oversees Canadian and U.S. economic risk and regulatory stress test requirements.

Over the years, Ms. Caranci has dedicated significant effort to addressing the challenges facing women in the workplace and driving awareness among policy makers around women in STEM.

She spent a decade researching labour market friction experienced by women, the gender pay gap and representation of women on corporate boards. Through her research, she hopes to create awareness and remove barriers for women so they may go as far as their potential can take them.

“I’m a firm believer in the value of equality and allowing people to reach their maximum potential. It’s a core value of mine,” she says. “It seems like such an injustice when you have people who don’t even get a shot based on all these other barriers.”

While the banks have begun to make changes, the financial industry in Canada remains significantly male-dominated.

In Canada’s six largest banks, women make up 58 per cent of the total workforce but only 38 per cent of senior management positions, according to the Canadian Banking Association. As well, there has been little change in the number of women in executive positions in recent years. In 2016, nearly 19 per cent of executives in the financial services industry were women and six years later, this number has gone up by only four percentage points.

Ms. Caranci says it’s still common today for her to be the only woman in the room when meeting with peer groups of economists.

“I remember earlier in my career, it was a bit off-putting, because it was not just that I would be the only female, but often I was one of the younger folks,” she says. “It was intimidating to be in there with people who had 20 years experience, more dominant personalities and communication styles.”

She recalls attending an industry event and standing in line to get a coffee when “the person in front of me turned and said, ‘Could you fill up the coffee? It’s empty.’ He thought I was the waitress and I was actually the keynote speaker at that event.”

To combat these kinds of slights, Ms. Caranci says she constantly reminded herself to get over any insecurities, even in situations that were uncomfortable.

“I tried to reassure myself that I deserved to be there and I had something to contribute,” she says. “But it was always a personal internal battle because there was nobody there to tell you that. You had to just believe that about yourself.”

‘Never chase the title, always chase the work’

When it comes to success in the financial industry, a little bit of stubbornness can be a boon, Ms. Caranci says, as well as a refusal to indulge in self-doubt. Every time she had questionable moments and persevered, it always felt worthwhile on the other side.

“I think if I were to give one piece of advice [it would be]: Never chase the title, always chase the work and the experience,” Ms. Caranci says. “For me, my whole career, even becoming a chief economist, it was never about becoming a chief economist, it was always about doing interesting work and adding value.”

She encourages women who are looking to get into executive positions to take risks, to stretch themselves into new areas and – most importantly – to not underestimate themselves.

“I feel like a lot of people saw potential in me and [I thought,] what they see must be there, so tap into that aspect. For me, it was [about pursuing] areas of new knowledge, new departments, learning what other people do for their roles and how I could help,” she says.

“If you help people, they want to help you back.”

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that Beata Caranci was the first female chief economist at a Canadian bank, which is incorrect; Sherry Cooper was appointed as chief economist at BMO in 2006. The headline and article have since been corrected to reflect this.

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