Bay Street awards get women back to work

After extended absences, networking, mentorships help professionals make transition
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/07/2018

Back in 2012, Christine Sauriol was chief compliance officer for Canadian operations at Deutsche Bank in Toronto. She also had two small children, and while she enjoyed her job, she was finding the demands of work and home life too much. So Sauriol quit work to devote herself to her family full-time, for five years.

But returning to the workforce proved a challenge.

“When I first started to look for work, I was being discounted for my years out of the industry, so the work that was being offered was almost at a junior level,” she said.

Sauriol then came across the Return to Bay Street Program by Women in Capital Markets (WCM), a network of professional women in the Canadian capital markets and voice of advocacy for women in the industry.

Now in its seventh consecutive year, the Bay Street program helps women return to the capital markets industry after an extended absence, and is meant to get more mid- to senior-level professional women into leadership roles. 

At the end of 2017, eight women were given the WCM Return to Bay Street award. Each recipient receives a paid minimum four-month contract at one of the program’s sponsor firms that include BMO Financial Group, CIBC, National Bank Financial Markets, RBC Capital Markets, RBC Global Asset Management/RBC Wealth Management, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, and TD Securities.

They also receive a $5,000 educational grant, a WCM mentor and a one-year WCM membership.

The program has been fabulous, said Sauriol, who saw a lot of traction in her first round of interviews with a number of banks, followed by a second round.

“We’re not resetting the clock to zero, and what went on in those five years was valuable as well, so I was able to parlay that into experience, how that would help me in my role,” she said. “The amount of people I met through this was unbelievable.”

Sauriol was actually offered a full-time position, and is now chief administrative officer for capital markets and wealth management at RBC in Toronto.

The biggest challenge for women returning to work after an extended absence is people make assumptions, said Jeannie Collins-Ardern, interim president and CEO at WCM. For example, they’ll assume the women don’t want to travel for work because of their family, or they won’t want to relocate or take on stressful assignments requiring extra hours.

“You get people making these very fundamental decisions about what you want, possibly without consulting you,” she said. “Then there are also more basic assumptions made, such as your skills are out of date, you haven’t kept up with the industry, and so on and so forth.”

Returning to work, both men and women will be low-balled when it comes to compensation or the level of the position, but the impact is greater for women, said Collins-Ardern.

“Employers often think that while you’ve been off, for whatever reason, that you’ve stopped learning, you’ve stopped keeping up, that basically you’ve been brain-dead for that period of time — and of course it’s not true.”

The Return to Bay Street program puts these women in front of senior people they probably wouldn’t have access to, said Collins-Ardern.

“It opens doors that might not otherwise have been opened.”

A 2017 award recipient, Claire Blessing took on a paid internship at RBC Capital Markets as director of institutional client management in Toronto in the fall.

Before having children, Blessing spent 13 years in international equity sales as a senior salesperson. She then focused on raising her children for eight years, and when she was ready to return to the workforce, she applied for the Return to Bay Street program.

“I’m so glad I did because it got me in front of all of the banks very quickly in a short period of time, meeting a lot of senior people… it was really a no-brainer,” she said.

“It’s a great way to get back in, and a great way to get exposure to all the banks within a short period of time, and meet a lot of people. So it was a great way to network again and reconnect and just get your confidence back up.”

While Blessing was offered a full-time role, she preferred the RBC internship as a way to reinvent herself. And the networking continues, even now that she’s back at work, she said.

“You have to be networking like crazy, both internally and externally.”

For women to increase the likelihood of getting a better job, it’s important to keep their network up to date, whether in-person, by Skype, email, phone or social media, said Collins-Ardern.

“It’s really important to cultivate and strengthen those relationships. You can do it before you return to work but it’s much easier to keep a relationship in place than to try to revive a stale relationship.”

Professionals should also try to refresh their skills and accreditations, and keep up to date with political, economic and industry developments, while they’re off work, said Collins-Ardern.

“It’s important to demonstrate to people that you read the newspapers regularly, that you’ve thought about the implications on your industry, that you know what’s happening in your industry, new products, mergers, acquisitions, court cases — whatever the news may be,” she said.

And it’s key to have a strong support network at home when you first get back on the job and are making first impressions, said Collins-Ardern.

“It’s important that you have strong help behind you and contingencies set in place so it doesn’t impinge on your work, at least for the first several weeks,” she said.

“After that, after people have formed their opinions of you, you can, in some cases, negotiate more flexible arrangements... because people still relate hours in the office to productivity, even though we all know they’re not all that synonymous.”

Flexibility in the workplace was an important consideration for Kimberly Berman when she took part in the Back to Bay Street program.

Having been a biotech associate and analyst for more than 10 years, she took time off to focus on her two children and academics in pursuing several degrees.

But when Berman was ready to restart her career, she felt at a bit of a loss, uncertain of next steps. So she enrolled in the Back to Work program at the University of Toronto, while also applying to WCM’s program. The latter helped her sharpen her interview skills, she said.

“It’s also your time to peak behind the curtain to see if the corporate culture is supportive of working mothers, especially with young children.”

In the end, Berman took on a paid contract position as a director focused on trading research in the equity research department at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

“I was very excited to have this exceptional opportunity given to me, and I firmly believe that would not have happened without this program,” she said.

The networking and boosted visibility were a great help, as was the tight time frame and the mentorship, said Berman.

“It’s been extremely important to have somebody who can give you a different perspective in any situation, so having that resource is definitely preferable.”

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