Home / FINANCIAL NEWS / Beatrice Riddell took on the sexist world of financial journalism

Beatrice Riddell took on the sexist world of financial journalism

As a young Toronto girl, Beatrice Wylie Riddell had the unusually good fortune to spend her summers near a Georgian Bay island owned by arts patron Dr. James MacCallum.

She paddled her canoe frequently from her parents’ cottage to meet with MacCallum’s friends, who included the Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. One day, Bea set up her own easel and tried using oils to paint her own landscape. When she asked for pointers, Jackson strolled over to have a look.

“You should follow a different career path,” he said, not unkindly.

And so she did, after graduating in history from the University of Toronto’s Trinity College in 1949.

Through a circuitous route, she picked financial journalism, which at the time was hardly welcoming to female writers. Her first jobs were administrative, starting at Maclean-Hunter Publishing Co. In the early 1950s, she became secretary to Ronald A. McEachern, the longtime editor (1942-64) of The Financial Post, Maclean-Hunter’s national weekly business newspaper.

However, Bea became entranced by the journalism practised before her eyes and eventually McEachern agreed she should give it a try. But unlike most of her male colleagues, Bea’s byline would not include her first name. She would be identified as B.W. Riddell.

While female journalists at general-interest daily newspapers across the country were accorded full bylines, McEachern was concerned the paper’s heavy contingent of male readers would be wary if they knew they were reading financial news written by a woman. When her gender was finally revealed some years later, 10 readers apparently cancelled their subscriptions.

The conservatism ran deep at The Financial Post. Up until the 1960s, male reporters were expected to wear suits when meeting with sources. John Bayne Maclean (known as “The Colonel”) had launched the publication in 1907 with two overarching goals: to make business writing more accessible to ordinary investors, and to make the FP’s pages interesting to “every young man determined to make a success of life.”

The sexism went beyond bylines. Not only was Bea paid less than her male colleagues in her early FP years, she found that some news conferences on financial topics took place in all-male clubs. This prompted her to make alternative arrangements to meet with sources.

The workaround turned out to be an advantage, however, allowing Bea the luxury of extended one-on-one discussions, without male competitors intruding. These sessions helped her develop the deep expertise that became the hallmark of her writing at the Financial Post.

Beginning with the publication of the six-volume report in 1966 by the Royal Commission on Taxation, Bea dissected and explained the country’s tax system and its inequities in a manner that few journalists have attempted. She earned praise from professionals for the clarity of her writing on complex issues.

As associate editor during the last phase of her career at the weekly FP, she continued her brand of explanatory journalism on behalf of readers. Readers had long since learned to seek out the full Beatrice Riddell byline for insight into financial matters. In 1988, Bea delayed her planned retirement for two years to help transition the newspaper from weekly to daily publication, a task that involved bringing some order to an editorial department where many new reporters and editors had been hired in a matter of weeks.

“She also had to help ease the culture clash between the more conservative FP veterans and the FP’s brash new owners, the Sun Media Group,” recalls former FP publisher and editor-in-chief Neville Nankivell.

Through nearly two decades of retirement, during which she volunteered with groups that provided food and shelter to the homeless, Bea never lost her enthusiasm for news stories enriched by deep research. She delighted in pointing out examples of it wherever it appeared.

Bea died on May 27 this year, age 90, her contribution to financial journalism assured.

 

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