Program aimed at helping women return to finance jobs expands to Montreal

TORONTO – In 2012, after a 12-year career working for global investment banks in Asia and the United States, Meric Koksal did what many women do at some point in their lives: she put her career on pause.

Koksal wanted to spend more time with her two young daughters and pursue her interest in pilates.

After three years of teaching fitness classes and raising her children, Koksal moved to Canada in 2014 with an eye to getting back into finance.

“It’s a fairly daunting task to get back into the workforce,” she says.

“You may feel like you have lost your network. In my case, I didn’t even have any contacts in Canada. People worry about how the current workforce will perceive the gap (in their resume).”

Through her networking efforts, Koksal discovered the Return to Bay Street Program run by advocacy and networking group Women in Capital Markets.

The program, now in its fifth year, has helped 22 women including Koksal return to their careers in finance by setting them up with four-month paid contracts at large Canadian financial institutions. Twenty-one of those women have since landed full-time jobs.

In Koksal’s case, the contract led to a permanent role as an executive director at CIBC Capital Markets.

This year, Return to Bay Street is expanding to Montreal, starting with a workshop next Tuesday that will help candidates prepare for the application process.

Jennifer Reynolds, the president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets, says she hopes some of the contracts secured for applicants this year will be in Montreal, where National Bank, one of the participating financial institutions, has a sizable presence.

Reynolds says part of the program’s success has been rooted in the fact that it allows women to re-enter the industry at a similar level to where they were when they left — rather than starting from scratch in a junior position such as an analyst or an associate.

“Without this program, quite frankly, they can’t even get their resumes looked at seriously,” says Reynolds. “Just getting interviews is very, very difficult. People just say, ‘Well, this person’s been out. They don’t count.'”

Confidence can be a challenge for women looking to return to work following an extended hiatus, says Reynolds, as can the rapid pace of change in the finance industry.

“You don’t know exactly how things have changed, where exactly you fit in, where your skill set would work,” says Catherine Staveley, another Return to Bay Street alum.

Staveley, who is originally from Ottawa, had spend a decade working on a trading floor in London before she returned to Canada.

She had been planning to dive straight back into work, but instead wound up taking an eight-year hiatus to raise two sons and start a nutrition business.

In 2012, Staveley learned about the Return to Bay Street Program, then in its first year.

“I knew I wanted to possibly go back into banking,” she says. “It’s pretty hard to figure out how to do it, especially when your contacts are in London.”

Staveley, who wound up landing a contract at BMO Capital Markets that evolved into a permanent job, has no regrets about her time away from work, but she’s happy to be back.

“I’m more alive than ever,” says Staveley, who is now working as a director of structured solutions.

“My mind is alive. I have more energy than ever. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it.”

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