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Women’s representation in capital markets has increased over the past few decades, but there has not been much change in leadership: these roles remain overwhelmingly filled by men. What contributes to this underrepresentation of women, and what can the industry do to improve it? The Institute for Gender and the Economy, in conjunction with Women in Capital Markets, hosted a panel discussion at Rotman School of Management in September 2018 to talk about these challenges.

Moderated by Sarah Kaplan, Professor at Rotman and Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, the panel of four included Amber Choudhry, Managing Director, Debt Capital Markets at CIBC Capital Markets; Deland Kamanga, Head of Global Fixed Income Currencies and Commodities (FICC) within BMO Capital Markets; Loretta Marcoccia, SVP & Chief Administrative Officer, Global Capital Markets, Scotiabank; and Camilla Sutton, President and CEO of Women in Capital Markets. The panel discussed the progress the industry has made on gender equality, barriers that still exist, and the various initiatives that have been implemented in their workplaces to make them more inclusive. Below are key takeaways from the discussion.

Family responsibilities are only one factor in women’s underrepresentation

A lack of gender diversity in leadership is often attributed to the difficulties women face in continuing their careers after they take time off to have a family. Indeed, many workplaces do not accommodate employees who need flexibility for care responsibilities, which disproportionately affects women and their ability to progress at work. However, the panelists emphasized that this is just one cause of a lack of diversity. Diverse candidates face numerous other barriers, including discrimination, unconscious bias in hiring and promoting, and a lack of networks in the “Old Boys Clubs” that are common in male-dominated industries like capital markets.

Managers do not take enough risks on women candidates

Women tend to be stereotyped as risk-averse, and this stereotype is used to justify why they do not get ahead at work. It is important to reframe this conversation and consider how managers don’t take risks on women. That is, managers may be willing to promote men even if their qualifications aren’t a perfect match for a position, but won’t do the same for women. This bias should be recognized, rather than placing blame on women for not making the right career decisions. 

Women tend to be stereotyped as risk-averse, and this stereotype is used to justify why they do not get ahead at work.

Diversity and inclusion should not stop with gender

In general, diversity initiatives have been shown to solely benefit white women. When asked how capital markets are making room for other underrepresented groups, like racialized women, panelists acknowledged that the primary focus for diversity tends to be on gender alone. There may be a gap in addressing underrepresentation of other minority groups, and moving forward, working to include these groups needs to be a priority.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives in capital markets can be more innovative

The panelists’ workplaces have implemented several different diversity initiatives, such as ensuring that every position has at least one minority candidate, and that interviewer panels include at least one woman. However, they also noted that these have not resulted in as much change as they would like, and discussed what they are doing to be more impactful. Ideas included:

  • Including diversity on leader scorecards: Increasing diversity is part of all leaders’ performance evaluations. For instance, leaders are required to expand the diversity of their personal networks. If they don’t perform well in this area, they face a financial penalty.
  • Conducting skills inventories: Managers decide on the necessary skills for every position, and do not stray from this framework of skills when hiring. This makes it less likely that candidates will be chosen based on biased criteria, like being a “good fit”.
  • Creating a position for a senior diversity and inclusion leader: A diversity and inclusion leader who is a respected senior member of the organization, and who is situated on the trading floor with other leaders, signals to employees that diversity and inclusion is highly valued.
  • Actively involving men: Workplace groups that aim to involve men in advancing gender equality, for example through formalized training, peer coaching, and online communities or discussion forums, can be strong tools for education.

For women and other minority groups to find successful careers in this industry, there needs to be a shift in both the structure and culture.


Numerous factors contribute to the pronounced lack of diversity in capital markets, particularly in leadership. For women and other minority groups to find successful careers in this industry, there needs to be a shift in both the structure and culture of banks and financial service organizations. Potentially, this shift may come from more inventive and coordinated diversity and inclusion strategies, as well as a stronger emphasis on holding managers and leaders accountable for change.

For more information about the “Women in Capital Markets” panel event, click here.
To see a case study on this issue, click here.


August 2019

Prepared by

Carmina Ravanera