Sex Discrimination on Bay Street Is Worse Than You Think

This is a guest post on trading from Tusk Trader (check out the newly launched site:, an experienced Bay Street trader who will be writing here until Tusk’s own blog is set up. Tusk had a front row seat to the twists, turns, and almost collapse of our capital market systems a few years ago and provides a unique perspective you won’t find anywhere else. For most people, financial literacy is the elephant in the room. Let Tusk Trader help change that. If you are on twitter, make sure to follow Tusk at @TuskTrader

Last week a report was published by Women in Capital Markets about the dismal number of women in high level positions within the capital markets in Canada. Here is a link to an article in the Globe and Mail about the report: The Globe and Mail

I have been surprised by many of the comments from the general public I have been hearing and reading about on the topic. It prompted me to want to shed some light on a few things from an insider’s perspective.

The first point I want to highlight is that the problem is not about education. Most programs are 50% women (mine was and that was a decade ago) and about 35% of MBA grads are women. The bottom line is that other professions are kicking the capital markets ass in this area of representation. The medical and legal world began to tackle gender issues years ago and are decades a head of us.  The capital markets cousin, Accounting, has had no gender balance issues in my lifetime. Women reaching the level of CFO in a variety of industries are the norm now. Insiders know if you take away the accounting positions (CFO, Treasure etc.) and legal (compliance), the numbers are far worse than the general public could fathom. I come from trading and it’s bad. It is worrisome that firms continue to cut the talent pool they draw from by half.

The report mentioned that women currently represent only 23% of the people in the capital markets, and 17% for senior level positions. What I think the general public is unaware of, is that the 23% and 17% number is a mask for a much bigger problem. The large Canadian banks do a comparatively good job at finding and hiring very talented women. I suspect they are not near the targeted 40% WCM has highlighted, but a few could be close or even past the 30% marker for overall participation. Other financial firms and institutions do a horrible job.

What I want the public to know is that when reports like this recent one hit the news, people on trading floors don’t ramble off about how “if a woman wanted to work as hard I do, she would be here”. What generally happens is that the employee reads the report, looks around, and see mostly male faces (and sometimes all) and thinks, “Yes, it’s a problem.” The individual might hang their head and think about it for few minutes, but then they generally get on with their day. Everyone knows it a huge problem but what is one VP of trading sitting at his desk reading an article really going to do about it?

At its core, I see it as a race for talent, and we are losing. 30 years ago, people wanted to hire people just like them. You ended up with firms where everyone there looked the same, came from the same school, and generally had the same views. That is no longer the pace of business. The only thing those firms are good for is coming to a consensus. I want to be a shareholder of, hire bankers from, and work for a company that hashes out a plan as strong as Fort Knox in the boardroom and has every contrary idea challenging it at that time. A tense difference of opinion there is good. I want it to happen in the boardroom, not on the street when everyone is thinking, “Why didn’t they think of this?” or “ Another firm full of yes men.” As this report points out, the more diverse the company, the more profitable the company. The numbers don’t lie.

It occurred to me last week that people outside of the capital markets really don’t know how bad it is. They see stats like, 23% and think, “Well, it’s not 50% but it’s okay. People make choices about what they want to do with their lives.” It’s far worse than those numbers would lead a member of the public to believe. I became curious with what the numbers would be if the report only looked at non-banks. I decided to do my own non-scientific survey; Just a random walk around Bay Street from my computer. {All of the following information came from the firms’ own websites}

What I found has caused me to propose a new strategy to tackle the problem. Public Shame. Want to see how bad it is? Think 23% is the problem? Many firms would be hard pressed to show 5%. Everyone on the Street knows the bad offenders too.

Let’s start with GMP. They have had a rocky few years and many would see this as kicking someone while they are down. I have no plans to deny that. A quick look through their executive list reveals that out of 12 positions there, 0 are women. That firm had a huge turnover about 2 years ago. Most jobs would have been up for grabs. What was their hiring process? Why have they not been grooming at least one woman for an executive role? I guess the banks are doing two things GMP is not, hiring women and making money.

Moving along to Canaccord. There have been a few major shakeups there in the last three years, including a big merger. Out of the 38 top executives across 3 continents, they have 1 women and she is in compliance. Do we attribute that to the firm finding talent or is it a case of the legal profession grooming a winner and Canaccord poaching? Only they know the answer.

Firstenergy out of Calgary has an interesting list I would like everyone to see. Not the executive list, but the trading floor list. Out of 20 institutional sales and trading spots, they have zero women; yet every assistant is a woman. I have never been to one of their trading floors but I wonder if I would find Don Draper in the corner with a glass of CC and a cigarette in his hand. Although Don Draper did promote Peggy Olson to copy writer, so Don is one up on these guys.

Now this post is a bit more personal than I like to get with people on the street but it is a huge problem. I implore capital markets people to stop doing nothing after a professional group points out a major fault of your sector. Hanging your head for a few minutes and thinking “yah, but what can we do, really?” needs to turn into action. Just do something, anything. Rethink many aspects of your firm. How do you hire? All but 2 interviews I have ever had on Bay Street occurred in a bar. Maybe a young 22-year-old girl getting interviewed by a 55-year-old man pounding back scotch is a problem? Maybe walking the new female candidate through the trading floor the long way so everyone gets to see her is a problem when you actually go to ask her a serious question? Only insiders know what they are doing and what they are not doing.

Public shame might sound contrite, but I think it will be shareholder and client pressure that will change this. Asset managers, when you place your order with the sell side, ask how many women are on their desk in senior trading roles. If they respond zero, ask why. Do you work for a firm that is like these dinosaurs? Are you a client of a firm like this? Please add the firm name to the comment section below.  Are you a shareholder of a financial institution? Call investor relations and ask them how many senior women they employ in their capital market divisions. Put on some pressure and demand some answers. If they push you for a reason, say you only want to work with and invest with companies committed to having the best talent and if they continually shrink that pool by half, they are not hiring the most talented people around.

Whether you agree with me or whether I have just made your blood boil with anger, please comment and forward this post around to every capital market division you normally contact.  Get a real conversation going about how to get the numbers higher. We know the firms with 23% are not the problem. The firms with zero are. Change needs to happen before we get left in the dust.

Thanks Tusk. Make sure to check out the site: or follow Tusk Trader on twitter: @tusktrader

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Showing 5 comments
  • HatterMike

    Well written. Well said. Trading has been a boys’ club (truly a white boys’ club) for far too long. Let’s name and shame if we can’t see equity any other way.

  • Tusk Trader

    thanks for the comments. please forward the post on. I really want to get the conversation going about what is really happening.

  • B.Islo

    There’s not really much that can be done if women simply don’t want the lifestyle associated with trading. Equality of opportunity is there, equality of results is up to those involved and whether or not they want those results.

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