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Capital markets not the boys' club Hollywood portrays, industry insiders say

TORONTO – Priya Radha was nervous when she decided to make the switch from Scotiabank’s commercial banking division to a sales and trading role in the bank’s capital markets arm.

She had seen the films, including “Wall Street” and “Boiler Room,” that portrayed the capital markets business as a testosterone-fuelled, back-slapping boys’ club.

“Before you take any big move like that you’re always a little nervous, so there was a bit of trepidation,” says Radha, director of swaps and options at Scotiabank’s Global Banking and Markets division.

But Radha was so enthused about the work that she decided to forge ahead, joining the training program in 2005, and quickly discovered that the depictions she had seen in films were way off-base.

Sure, the aggressive, type-A, alpha-male trader of Hollywood lore still exists, but he’s now in the minority, says Radha.

“There are quite a few misconceptions about the industry,” Radha says. “Wall Street in the ’80s and ’90s is not Bay Street in 2016.”

As the World Economic Forum warns that female-dominated professions are at imminent risk in the years to come due to technological innovations, women have been steadily climbing the ranks in the financial services industry in Canada — once almost totally male-dominated.

They now make up 27 per cent of the board seats at TSX-listed finance and insurance companies, according to the latest report from the Canada Board Diversity Council.

That’s higher than the 19.5 per cent average in corporate Canada overall.

But the capital markets side of the business — which includes roles such as investment banking, sales and trading and corporate banking — has been lagging behind the broader industry, a fact that insiders attribute to mistaken beliefs about what the work environment is like.

“There is a bit of a disconnect between the broader public perception of what the industry’s like to work in, and what it’s actually like to work in today,” says Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of networking and advocacy group Women in Capital Markets.

“That’s really held us back from attracting women to the industry, unfortunately.”

Capital markets is a competitive line of work and long hours are often involved, but Kirsten Kennedy says that isn’t unique to the industry.

“We have intense, exciting, hard days, but no more than other professions,” says Kennedy, managing director of Canada investor sales at BMO Capital Markets.

Much has changed since Kennedy got her start in the capital markets business 27 years ago, she says.

At the time, Kennedy was one of very few women in her department at Wood Gundy in London, England.

“The world was a different place when I started,” says Kennedy, who spearheaded the launch of Women in Fixed Income, a one-day, BMO-backed conference, more than a decade ago.

The idea for the conference came when Kennedy and several of her female colleagues at BMO found themselves working on the desk one afternoon while their male co-workers were out playing golf.

“None of us were particularly good at golf, nor were we necessarily invited,” Kennedy says. “We thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to create an environment where we could all look forward to doing something together?”

Since then, the conference has grown from roughly 25 women to more than a hundred, highlighting how the industry itself is changing, says Kennedy.

While there are more women entering the capital markets business, Reynolds says most of them are still in the junior ranks. The challenge for companies will be to retain those women and provide opportunities for them to advance, she says.

One thing that needs to change is the jacket-on-the-chair culture that keeps employees chained to their desks, says Reynolds.

“Never mind women, let’s just think about millennials,” says Reynolds, a former investment banker with BMO Capital Markets.

“They don’t want to work that way. They want to work in more flexible environments … The smart organizations are going to evolve with the times and recognize it’s not the 1950s anymore.”

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