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Sherry Cooper, BMO’s outgoing chief economist, tells CBC that women still struggle to break through the glass ceiling in corporate Canada.

Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail

Women continue to struggle to break through the glass ceiling in the senior ranks of corporate Canada, says outgoing Bank of Montreal chief economist Sherry Cooper.

Asked on the CBC radio show The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti if women today following in her footsteps still face more difficulties than their male colleagues in reaching the top, Ms. Cooper replied: "yes, I think so. I'm not naïve any longer."

"Women are still a very small minority of executives and board members," said Ms. Cooper, who blazed a trail for women on Bay Street over the past three decades.

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"It's still a bit of a struggle."

The women who do make it must put in an "outstanding performance," whereas there are many men at the same level who are mediocre performers, she said.

The big banks have come a long way in terms of human-resources policies aimed at diversifying the executive ranks, but they lag behind many professions such as law and medicine, said Ms. Cooper, 62.

Vestiges of the old boys' club, locker-room climate remain, she said.

"Guys play hockey on Wednesday nights and golf on the weekends and women don't feel welcome in that environment."

There is still a testosterone-fuelled, locker-room mentality among traders that helped trigger the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown, she said.

Asked by Ms. Tremonti if male dominance helped shape the way the financial services industry works, she replied: "We have seen that in spades during the financial crisis."

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Highly competitive, alpha-male traders took unnecessary risks and made extreme bets without consideration for the potential damage that could result from their actions, she said.

"If the world had been full of female traders instead of male traders" the meltdown would have been avoided, said Ms. Cooper, one of only two women to be named chief economist of one of Canada's big banks. The other is Ruth Getter, a former chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

The Baltimore-born Ms. Cooper has been a high-profile economic forecaster in Canada since moving here 30 years ago to become chief economist at broker Burns Fry, the predecessor to BMO-owned Nesbitt Burns.

In the U.S. she worked at Fannie Mae and the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, where she was an assistant to then-Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.

"I haven't broken through [the glass ceiling] in the sense that I was typecast from the beginning as an economist," she said during the CBC interview.

"No one ever considered I could be in training for a C-suite job in the bank," she said.

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"It's not that I aspired to be a CEO. It's just that I was never even considered in that role."

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