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Spouses With Careers on Hold Help Propel Women to Top Jobs

May 08, 2012

Women who reach the upper ranks of Canadian companies often have husbands who have cut back their careers, or quit their jobs altogether to support their wives, three top woman bankers said.

“When you look around at our bank, all of the women in the most senior management positions have families and also have husbands who have chosen to scale back their careers so that their wives can do the 24-7,” said Wendy Hannam, executive vice president in international banking at Scotiabank. “We have a ways to go in Canada for that dynamic -- the stay-at-home dad -- to become socially acceptable.”

Hannam spoke on a panel about women in financial markets at the Bloomberg Canada Economic Summit in Toronto today. The panel also discussed executive boards and European quotas that mandate gender balance. Women have faced more pressure to be flexible than men in achieving career ambitions as they seek to achieve a balance with family life, they said.

“You want to support your family and have that family time and insure you support your spouse in achieving their career potential,” Janice Fukakusa, chief financial officer at Royal Bank of Canada. “We’re seeing people coming to terms with that choice earlier on in their careers.”

Colleen Johnston, chief financial officer at TD Bank Group, said women needed to change their language to mentor the future generation of female bankers. RBC is Canada’s largest lender, followed by TD and Scotiabank.

‘Barriers and Obstacles’

“We talk a lot about barriers and obstacles and challenges, and we’ve really got to start talking about the successes and the joy of great careers,” Johnston said.

“As women we tend to use the word ‘sacrifice’ more than men do,” she said. “When you combine it with talk of ‘boys’ clubs’” that may discourage young women.

Fukakusa said that it makes business sense for a bank’s workforce to reflect its client base. In retail banking, the huge majority of the decision-makers are women, and Royal Bank of Canada (RY) has been able to expand its percentage of female managers in recent years. In the investment-banking unit, women have had a tougher time moving up the ladder, in part because the culture is still male-dominated.

“When you have a more diverse talent base, performance goes up,” she said.

TD’s Johnston said corporate boards are increasingly able to add more women without mandated quotas such as those in place in Norway and expected to take hold in France and Spain in coming years.

‘Improve Diversity’

“I am not an advocate of quotas, I think enlightened organizations will get there,” Johnston said. “Canadian organizations need to improve diversity at the board level but they need to get there the right way. It has to be a meritocracy.”

TD’s board is composed of 40 percent women, who have been recruited from management ranks beyond retired chief executives, Johnston said.

“Recruiting and thinking about the next level of management really opens up the talent pool,” she said. “These changes require a little bit of courage in looking at business models.”

“The truth is there hasn’t been a lot of progress in the last few years,” she said. “I personally think this is going to be a great era for women as they start to take their rightful place on Canadian boards.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Cecile Gutscher in Toronto at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Badertscher at

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