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May 30, 2012In today’s CanCon, Catalyst Advisory Services Director Candice Morgan offers some advice for moving from good intentions to genuine impact on gender diversity. Based on research released today, Women and Men in Capital Markets: An Action Plan for Gender Diversity, Candice’s observations and suggestions offer solid guidance for leaders in any business sector. —Deborah Gillis

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For the past decade, Catalyst has partnered with the Toronto-based organization Women in Capital Markets (WCM) to track women’s employment in the dynamic Capital Markets sector. In four separate benchmarking studies, we found that less than a quarter of professionals in Capital Markets were women, while men held 83 percent of line positions and 90 percent of senior positions.

Why are women so underrepresented, you ask? So did we.

In October 2011, Catalyst held focus groups with nearly 100 women and men at all levels at some of Canada’s largest financial institutions. Women and Men in Canadian Capital Markets: An Action Plan for Gender Diversity is a guidebook that draws on these discussions as well as Catalyst’s Advisory Services expertise, ongoing research, and the innovative company practices of our global membership to suggest potential solutions. Despite the good intentions of senior leaders and talent managers, gender imbalance persists, bringing with it the failure to optimize talent, high turnover, and poor long-term sustainability.

What are some of the barriers facing women in Capital Markets? What obstacles might you encounter at your own company?

• A male-dominated culture. To recruit and promote women, the industry must change the perception that it is exclusively male. Practical solutions include internships targeting university women or women returning to the workforce, and early outreach to girls’ youth organizations, schools, and other partners to interest girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

• A shortage of women role models at the top. Even companies with a robust proportion of women managers often have very few women in executive leadership. Women are sometimes excluded from networking opportunities outside of work, resulting in less visibility, fewer sponsors, and less inside knowledge of the unwritten rules. Our guide features solutions to bolster professional networks through formal talent programs. For instance, Goldman Sachs’ Senior Women’s Review is a firm-wide review led by senior leaders that includes 360 feedback and performance scrutiny of high-level women. Deutsche Bank’s Atlas Program offers critical executive sponsorship to top-performing senior women.

• A deeply ingrained face-time culture. Both men and women said that absences—even as short as a couple of weeks—could result in the loss of clients, dollars, and respect. Women said they struggled after returning from maternity leave, and many took just a quarter of the full year allotted. Yet work-life effectiveness can only heighten productivity and improve retention and sustainability, as demonstrated by the creative practices of companies such as Boston Consulting Group. Women work and thrive in other industries, such as consulting and law, when leaders formally and informally model a flexible culture where what gets done matters more than where it gets done.

• A gap between good intentions and true accountability. Many companies lament that despite senior leaders’ commitment to gender diversity and talent management, the “frozen” middle is slow to support such initiatives. Yet our conversations suggested skepticism that leaders actually “walk the talk” to promote accountability for inclusive behavior. Companies like Baxter and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) have achieved results by instituting measures such as scorecards and targets, formal sponsorship, succession planning, and objective decision-making protocols.

Clearly, there are continued obstacles that must be overcome to best leverage female talent in Capital Markets and other industries. The Action Plan’s collection of 50 company practices and more than 120 recommendations demonstrate that companies can—and do—move from intent to impact.

How has your company moved from senior-level commitment to action?

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Candice Morgan is Director in Advisory Services and lead author of Women and Men in Canadian Capital Markets: An Action Plan for Gender Diversity