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Martha Fell, CEO of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets.

Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail/matthew sherwood The Globe and Mail

Four key issues continue to limit the number of women working in Canadian capital markets and their progress into the senior ranks, a new report has found.

In roundtable discussions with 100 men and women in capital markets in the country's six largest banks, researchers for Toronto-based advocacy group Catalyst found that:

  • Women are not exposed to capital markets career opportunities as early or as often as men are.
  • The sector is often perceived to have a boorish, exclusive male culture, and many women assume that it is impossible to be successful and maintain a personal life in the industry.
  • The recruitment process reinforces misconceptions with informal evaluation and selection methods which favour men over women.
  • Some within the industry assume that women are not committed to long-term careers and are therefore not worth the investment to groom for senior roles.

The report was done because despite a decade of advocacy efforts, "it's clear we haven't moved the dial," said Martha Fell, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets, an industry association that commissioned the research by Catalyst.

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From 2000 to 2008, the financial industry experienced record growth, but in four studies done covering that period, the portion of women in investment and wealth management held at about 23 per cent of all professional positions (most as analysts, associates, assistants and branch administrators), Catalyst found.

Women held only 17 per cent of vice-president or director positions and 10 per cent of positions of managing director and above, the studies found. Men held 83 per cent of senior profit-and-loss roles in the industry.

"We decided doing another survey wouldn't be as important as understanding why the dial is not moving," Ms. Fell said.

The roundtable discussions found that while the industry has made increasing efforts to attract more women, there is a gap between human resources department's efforts to drive gender diversity and how these policies are understood by both male and female professionals.

"Good intentions are there; however, creating a breakthrough requires intentionality and commitment to change. Leaders, talent managers and professionals need to renew their action plans," said Deborah Gillis, Catalyst's senior vice-president of membership and global operations.

Recommendations for the industry are being released Wednesday in the form of a guidebook, based on diversity strategies that have proved effective in other sectors, including:

  • Communicating and generating buy-in among all employees for gender diversity.
  • Increasing men’s awareness and trust to advocate for women in leadership positions.
  • Investing in career development of high-potential women through sponsorship, networks and programs.
  • Adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward gender inequality in talent development.

"The consistent message we want to communicate is the business case: This is an industry that is driven by talent and we are emphasizing that by underutilizing the talents of women, capital markets are missing an opportunity," Ms. Gillis said.

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