The obstacles loomed large for many women wanting to advance their careers in the financial services sector – even in the late 1990s – says Danette Pottle, the Halifax-based, wealth sales director, Atlantic Canada region, for Sun Life Global Investments (Canada) Inc.

Pottle was in her mid-20s at the time and wanted to become a financial advisor at a brokerage firm. This step seemed like a natural progression, given her previous experience at a major bank and, before that, as a junior economist for a federal government agency.

However, Pottle was discouraged from pursuing that goal by management at the firm she wanted to join. “The door wasn’t open for young females,” says Pottle.

Unable to fulfil her original ambitions, Pottle left the financial services sector altogether and started a successful second career in the male-dominated high-tech field, in which she eventually moved into management roles.

Still, Pottle did not leave gender biases behind, even though most of the people reporting to her were men. “Strong women tend to be perceived as women with a chip on their shoulder,” she says. “On the other side, strong men are the people you want to put out in front of a team.”

Eight years later, Pottle, in search of a less hectic business schedule that would allow her to start a family, decided it was time to shift gears. She dove back into the financial services sector in 2008, this time to pursue a sales position with a Canadian asset-management firm.

For Pottle, like many career women, years of jostling for position in the workplace contributed to her confidence. The new job required 10 years of wholesaling experience, which she did not have. But, Pottle says, she was able to pitch the many other skills she did have to an executive at the firm.

“That was one of the things I learned many years ago from a really great, successful woman,” says Pottle. “She said, ‘Always go for it because the [new] skills can be learned, but the attitude can’t.'”

That colleague told Pottle that the low level of confidence some women display when applying for a job is a key difference between men and women. Women tend to look at the technical requirements listed in a job posting and apply for a position only if they feel they have every single skill. Men, on the other hand, may go after a job even if they lack the posted requirements.

Pottle pays this advice forward during her many presentations at financial services sector events, at which she encourages other women in the sector to be ambitious and tackle their goals.

Pottle cautions, however, against setting impossible goals. “As women, we want to be everything. We want to be the best at our jobs, the best mom and wife or partner,” says Pottle. “You can’t be 100% at everything. You have to choose your battles.”

That’s something Pottle learned through personal experience. Now 42, she is married to a financial advisor and is the mother of a two-year-old. When Pottle’s daughter was born, she took a shortened maternity leave of only three and a half months, even though her company encouraged her to take the full year.

“I was afraid that I would fall behind the pack. So, I took [less] time,” she explains. “Looking back on that now, I wish I had had the confidence that I preached to so many other women: to be yourself. But it’s very tough. It’s tough because you don’t have other women to lean on who can say, ‘It’s OK’.”

In hindsight, Pottle also regrets waiting to start her family. “I have always only worked with men, so I have always been competing. And they were always travelling and doing their thing,” she explains. “It was a ‘go-go-go’ world, and I was always afraid to take the time.”

Pottle moved into her current role at Sun Life in 2011, in which she markets and explains the firm’s products and provides practice-management guidance to advisors who sell Sun Life products. That guidance often includes tips to male advisors on connecting with women investors, a topic Pottle is passionate about.

Women often make the financial decisions within the household and they are outliving men, which means they will control the wealth in Canada, says Pottle. The wealth-management industry must continue its efforts to attract both women advisors and women investors, she notes.

Adds Pottle: “We need [those people] for the health of this industry.”

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