From leader to stay-at-home mom to intern to leader again

The Financial Post| December 23, 2014

Why three women left Bay Street — and why they went back

Do women avoid or abandon promising careers on Bay Street because they place a higher premium on work-life balance? Kind of, sort of, but not really.

"I think there is a common fallacy out there — generally, not just in our industry — that women leave the work environment to go home and take care of kids," says Jennifer Reynolds, president and chief executive of Women in Capital Markets. "In fact, only about 10 percent of highly educated women leave to take care of kids."

The New York Times Magazine first shined its spotlight on these 10 percenters in a 2003 cover story. Soon after, the term "opt-out generation" entered the lexicon and the dreamy concept of "having it all" was placed under permanent review.

A decade later the magazine followed up with these women in a feature titled "The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In." Explanations ranged from money and marital problems to plummeting self-confidence, and roadblocks to re-entry ranged from finding a job that matched their former tax bracket and prestige to finding a job at all.

The remaining 90 percent, of course, never left the workforce. But many of them still walked away from those same high-stress, high-powered jobs. Why?

For most women the problem is not long hours qua long hours, says Ms. Reynolds. The problem is that those long hours do not yield the same results for women that they do for men. "Every hour you invest in your work is an hour you're not investing in your home," she says. "Women just want to make sure that trade-off is worth it."

And, for the most part, it's not.

While women in capital markets hold 23 percent of associate, analyst, assistant and administrator positions, they hold only 17 percent of vice president or director positions and only 10 percent of positions at the level of senior director or above. Or at least that was the case in 2008, the last time Catalyst surveyed the Canadian industry. "I'd love to tell you that the numbers have changed," says Ms. Reynolds, "but anecdotally I don't think they have."

Ms. Reynolds argues that the under-representation of women at the top is the cause, not the result, of the under-representation of women at the bottom. "They don't see any women ahead of them, and there is no role model to say, 'Oh, I can actually make it into a senior role here.'" So they leave.

Enter the Return to Bay Street program. Launched by Women in Capital Markets in 2012, the program awards internships to women who have left the industry and who are now looking to break back in. So far twelve women have won, six of them in 2014. Of the six winners from previous years, all have since landed full-time positions within the industry.

Three of them share their stories. 

What is your reaction to the fact that the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be chaired by a man?