Q&A: What a Bay Street star says it will take to boost women’s ranks in finance industry


For 25 years, Camilla Sutton has been a mover and a shaker on Bay Street.

At the Bank of Nova Scotia, she did everything from equity research to running the bank’s global foreign exchange.

In January, she became president and chief executive officer of Women in Capital Markets, tasked with improving the role of women in Canada’s finance industry — no small feat.

Sutton recently sat down with CBC to chat about her new role.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. ‘I think that having the discussion is critical, and this is a critical time,’ says Camilla Sutton, the new head of Women in Capital Markets. (Women In Capital Markets)

Can you tell me about your new job? What’s the overall goal?

Absolutely. Women in Capital Markets is an organization that has been around, really, since I entered the markets. It started in 1995, and it works to accelerate the pace of change and the pace of gender diversity that we’re seeing across capital markets and finance in Canada. We’ve seen some increases at the lower levels, but we really haven’t seen it shift into leadership and executive levels.

Are you talking quotas? The Ontario Securities Commission already has “comply or explain,” a policy to increase gender diversity on boards. 

Quotas are a touchy subject. I think what we’ve seen in terms of things like boards, we’ve had comply or explain in Canada now for several years, and the results haven’t been as great as some of us would of hoped when we entered that system. In Ontario, the OSC is re-evaluating that and [asking] is it time now to introduce things like targets? Is it time to broaden the discussion around quotas? And I think, increasingly, as we haven’t seen the change with comply or explain, we really are looking at what are the other ways we can accelerate this change.

A woman walks by the Toronto Stock Exchange on Bay Street. Seventy-four per cent of new board seats in 2017 still went to men, Sutton said. (Don Pittis/CBC)

There was a time when you didn’t believe in quotas, and now you do. What’s changed?

What’s changed is the evidence.

It can’t just be about networking, it can’t just be about mentorship ….– Camilla Sutton

Seventy-four percent of new board seats in 2017 still went to men, leaving only 26 percent for women. And so we haven’t seen the change that we would like to see. And so I think that has opened up this whole new level of discussion around what would be better. Is it targets? Is it evaluating quotas more substantially and trying to look at some of the research we see globally? 

You’ve chosen an interesting time, with the #MeToo movement, to make this jump. Does that help or hinder your cause?

I think it helps. I think that what we’ve seen with #MeToo is it has raised the dialogue in the sense that we can now openly have this discussion, between you and me. I can have it at the dining room table with my parents and my children; I have it socially and I think that’s similar for many people. And I think having the discussion, and understanding and learning from that discussion, are key pieces to changing it going forward. I think overarching the entire #MeToo thing has been very positive.  Bank towers on Bay Street in Toronto’s financial district: the city will become the headquarters of the federal government’s new infrastructure financing agency. (Adrien Veczan/Canadian Pres)

What’s your definition of success?

Moving the dial, seeing the numbers change, seeing more women enter leadership, seeing the cultures everywhere change, seeing the pay gaps diminish — all of those pieces are critically important to me. All of those pieces are critically important to our society. And when you look at finance the career opportunities in finance are engaging, they’re smart, they’re challenging, they change every single day, they are very forward thinking and the rewards are tremendous. So having a whole segment of our population a) missing out on that career opportunity and b) from the employers perspective missing out on that entire deep pool of talent is critical. Success for me is really trying to bridge a lot of that gap in a way that’s accelerating what we’ve done to date.

Do you have a timeline?

Timelines are tricky, I’d like to see change every single day, and that’s how we’re driving here in this organization. But I think as we measure it year to year, and we do do some research and we do do some benchmarking studies, I’d like to see the pace of change increasing. What we’ve seen to date are some small minor changes, but we haven’t seen it more far enough, and I think that tells us that we need to shift what we’ve been doing. It can’t just be about networking. It can’t just be about mentorship. It can’t just be about trying to get women to change what they are. Institutionally we have to look at our policies and our procedures and their cultures, and that’s where we need to make major adjustments. 


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