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Women making gains in finance, business

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(Special) - Women are making strides in the financial services sector, both as employees and clients, and increasingly are venturing into entrepreneurship and starting their own businesses.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of self-employed women in Canada increased by 16 per cent in the last decade compared to a growth rate of nine per cent among men.

Similarly, the financial services sector has come a long way in the last 20 years in terms of how it treats female employees and clients. However, addressing gender issues still needs to be a priority for the industry.

While men account for the majority of small business owners, women are closing the gap. Fifty-eight per cent of women would like to start their own business within the next five years, with the hospitality and restaurant sectors topping the list, according to a BMO Bank of Montreal study.

"More and more women are venturing out and starting their own businesses and with the current lending conditions and historically low interest rates the timing couldn't be better," says Sandra Henderson, senior vice president, eastern Ontario division of BMO Bank of Montreal's personal and commercial banking.

The food and accommodation industries historically have represented the highest share of businesses with women as the majority owner. Twenty seven per cent of aspiring women entrepreneurs are looking to start business in this sector, up from 19 per cent last year, followed by the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, business and professional services, information technology and skilled trades.

"To succeed in the new global economy, Canada needs a stronger culture of innovation in our business community with greater focus on continual innovation and productivity and less risk aversion to change," says Kelly Lynch, vice-chair of BMO Financial Group. "Entrepreneurial start-ups are the genesis for future small and medium Canadian business that will create jobs and drive the economy for us and our children."

Another BMO study found that the majority of Canadians feel that the financial services sector has become more equitable in the way it treats female customers compared to their male counterparts in the last 20 years and believe the industry is doing a better job of treating female clients more equitably over the same period.

Sixty-four per cent of Canadians (70 per cent of women) believe that male clients are treated in a preferential way over female clients by the financial services industry and 79 per cent of Canadians (81 per cent women) believe that, when a male-female couple meets with a financial professional, the male client is generally viewed as the primary decision maker.

Generally, the financial services industry has made the assumption that men have been handling finances in the family but now it is discovering there are a lot of women who are really handling the finances behind the scenes.

"The truth of the matter is that women now represent 50 per cent of the workforce and women are going to control 75 per cent of the wealth going forward," Charyl Galpin, co-head of BMO Nesbit Burns, recently told a panel on international women's day.

While women have made great strides in the workplace there is still a "glass ceiling that hinders women from advancing their careers beyond a certain point."

Two-thirds of Canadians believe men have more career opportunities than their female counterparts and 87 per cent believe the financial services sector should be doing more to help female employees achieve a better work/home life balance.

"While our industry has definitely become more aware of some of the challenges female employees face and continues to address them, the job is by no means done," Galpin says. "It's incumbent on both men and women to 'be the change' on a daily basis. We all have a role to play in ensuring that gender equity is the norm in all workplaces."

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2014 Talbot Boggs

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