While challenges still exist for women in finance, many are navigating success in this world in different ways.

A panel delved into this topic at the Northern Finance Association conference in Vancouver in September 2019. It featured Irem Demirci, an assistant professor of finance at Portugal’s Nova School of Business and Economics; Lisa Kramer, a professor of finance at the University of Toronto; and Cheryl Sauvé, an associate portfolio manager at Phillips, Hager and North Investment Management Ltd.

In academia, women are held to a higher standard and have a harder time publishing papers, becoming editors and being promoted, said Kramer. “The data support all these things. This isn’t just some feeling that we have that somehow we’re being held back. This is quantifiably verifiable. And we need to stop feeling like we need to try harder to measure up. There are just systemic obstacles that are in the way and we need to think about ways to use science to help us address these problems of implicit bias. And that’s a work in progress, but it can be done.”

There are efforts to address these barriers, said Kramer, noting grant agencies have started to find ways to level the playing field. Also, companies are starting to look through resumes with the name redacted to remove any gender influence, added Sauvé.

Women who are more senior can also help their juniors by providing speaking opportunities or amplifying the contributions of younger women, noted Kramer.

It’s important for women to work harder and prove people wrong, said Demirci. “Prove them wrong. Show them that you can do it. Show them that you’re smart. Show them that you’re hard-working. Show them when you’re given a task, you’ll do your best and deliver the best outcome you can deliver.”

And it’s key not to take criticism to heart, Kramer added. “I would say that people will always find reasons to be critical and try to hold you down, and so if it wasn’t gender that they were feeling was disadvantaging them it would be something else. So you just have to let the criticism become background noise and not let it distract you from your more important objectives. I think that’s really important.”

It’s also important to be comfortable saying no, said Kramer. “We’re not promoted on the basis of how many committees we’re on or how many papers we refereed. It’s OK to protect your time and do only the things that are actually going to benefit your career.”

As well, when thinking about work-life balance, this means something different to everyone, said Kramer.

“On the balance, I like the analogy of the seesaw,” Sauvé said. “You’re never going to be in this perfect place where you’re great at everything, but you’ll spend a lot of time feeling like, ‘I killed it as a mom this weekend,’ or ‘I really aced it at a professional thing.’ So it’s OK that life will be like a seesaw and just ride it and enjoy it.”