Women and Wall Street

imgresThere was an article this Sunday in the NYTimes about women and Wall Street titled A Woman Drank My Breast Milk and Other Wall Street Tales.  The author, Maureen Sherry, describes how when she was 7 months pregnant interviewed a young woman for a job at Bear Sterns.  The young woman wanted to know the reality of the environment of the company.  Sherry laughed it off about how women are treated but the reality of it was disturbing.

Most women don’t stay on Wall Street for long periods of time if any at all.  They are treated like shit.  When they get pregnant instead of their peers or superiors being happy for them they tend to increase their hours and put more demands on their time.  It as if they are saying to mothers let’s see if you can take it.  There have been countless law suits on harassment that are kept behind closed doors settling for big sums of cash.

I have met with a few women who were working on Wall Street who were making big bucks but so incredibly unhappy and at a loss on how to move forward or deal.

Years ago I was interviewed by Janet Hanson in front of 100 ladies at a luncheon.  I call these women “banker ladies”.  My career did not cross the path of most of them until recently as they have started to leave and figure out what’s next.

Janet and I talked about what I was doing in the investing world.  At one point we opened the floor to questions.  I will never forget this.  A woman stood up and started to harass me.  She said that she was at a big investment bank and in order for her to move up the ladder she literally had to leave the firm and move to the Middle East and work for the Saudis helping manage assets for them.  After I let her vent I said to her that I have zero idea what it was like for her at the bank.  It am not part of that world.  What I do know is that only one person gets to be the Chairman, only one person gets to be the President so there are probably more than a handful of men who vied for those jobs and did not get them either.  Essentially at one point the ladder to climb up becomes rungless.

I looked around the room and said I bet that of the 100 women here many of you have had better returns than your male counterparts.  You are never going to change these environments from within (although they are desperately trying to fix them now) so why don’t you start your own investment bank.  Change happens from outside not inside.

Afterwards a bunch of women came up to me to talk about that.  I happen to know one that took it to heart and started her own investment firm.  It is no different from the start-up world.  If you don’t like what you see, then forge a different path and build it yourself.

The article is worth reading.  The system is broken in the banking world.  It is 2016 and it is time to see women being treated with respect and as equals.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Emily Steed

    Thank you so much for your direct and honest voice. Wow. And thanks for sharing that article – I had not seen it. There are, of course, a lot of financial, family and other influences that impact whether a woman feels able to to start her own business. But I love your point.

  2. Marissa_NYx

    Joanne, Great post. It speaks to an important unspoken issue: Women have choice. It is your choice to work in that environment. It is your choice to put up with the crap, the politics, the rules of engagement in investment banking and corporate life. You have a choice: make a decision to stay or go. If you stay, you know the rules. If you go , you are free and then your job is to create a new reality, where there are no rules. That too can be as scary as staying. If you feel trapped and unhappy, then think: life if short. What memories do I want looking back in 20, 30, 50 years time. If you don’t want to remember the memories on Wall street, then you know what you need to do. I for one, did leave Investment Banking and also the Telco sector where I had poured a big chunk of my professional life. Courage is to look at the mirror and say: who am I , what life do I want, what do I want to be like, be remembered as, for my children. Having children changes everything and helps you with these decisions. If you don’t have children then you of course still have choices – more in fact. But remember: the buck stops with you. Take responsibility for yourself. And – you are enduring and amazingly reslient, more enduring and resilient than these organisations. Over your life, investment banks will come and go. But you as a human, can do so much, and make a happy life if you simply realise the choice is yours.

    1. Gotham Gal

      So right. It is your choice. Great comment!

  3. jason wright

    what kind of women are the wives of men responsible for this kind of shit behaviour?

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is a very good question.how about their moms?

      1. jason wright

        ask Freud.my big suspect is schooling. university fraternities and sororities are probably at the heart of the issue.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Good instincts

      2. pointsnfigures

        Or their fathers

  4. Georgene Huang

    I’m a woman who has worked on Wall Street and I have to say that the one thing this article really got right is the feeling that you have to “be in the closet” about your identity. It’s very hard — impossible, actually — to bring your full talents to work when you have to suppress so many aspects of your personality in order to fit in and be “one of the guys” or “a girl’s guy” or whatever you want to label all the million instances of “rolling with the punches”. This is just an immense waste of energy that could be channelled into work. Life as a startup entrepreneur isn’t cake and roses, but it certainly is easier to be oneself (despite the imperfections of the tech industry which is well documented elsewhere in these pages)!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Working hard is never a cake walk but being yourself makes life much better

  5. pointsnfigures

    Most of finance isn’t hospitable to women. There is a lot of consternation over women in venture, but it’s probably the most welcoming place I have seen in finance for women.I was never in the investment banking community, but I was on the trading floor in Chicago for 25 years. It was significantly harder for women to survive than it was men. Three of the best traders I ever saw were women in the Eurodollars. They were tough as nails. Margery Teller and Leslie Henner Burns were the largest traders in the world. Julie Vukin Neterre was so quick with her mind, and not afraid to speak up for herself (Margie and Leslie were not afraid either!). Somewhere on the internet, there is a video of Leslie talking about what it was like. Paraphrasing, “I stand closer to men in the trading pit for hours during the day than I sleep next to my husband.”On occasion, stuff would happen openly on the floor. But most of the stuff happened off the floor. Strippers, and all the rest in offices. Dirty magazine pictures were on the floor constantly but would wind up in the piles of constant trash all over the place. Every day, the language was extremely coarse and a stream of dirty jokes, double entendres and insults consistently streamed through the air. That culture was 150 years old, and it wasn’t going to change. Women had to accept it, deal with it, and rise above it. I saw the culture crush more men than women.No way to put this delicately, but the “odor” on the floor wasn’t pleasant. Put 5000 mostly males in their 20s-30s that had been out all night the night before and you might get a sense of it. You would drip sweat on the people you stood next to and spittle was always in the air. Guys used to chew tobacco, gum, sunflower seeds and spit them everywhere.In the Currency pits, and in the interest rate pits there were some women. In the Hog pit where I traded during the last 10 years of my career, there were NO women. A couple of clerks and that was it. Ironically, there was more decorum in the hog pit than other pits.I have two girls. One wouldn’t have made it on the floor. The other would have chewed the male traders up and spit them out in pieces. It all depends on your personality.Not to say this happens in Investment banking, but we always had a constant flow of women that would come on the floor and “do anything” to marry or be with a trader. Those women hurt the women that were there to make an honest buck.Investment banking hours are brutal, and not conducive to women at all-especially if they want to have a family. It is very rare to see a women in her 40s or 50s that was able to rise in the bank, and have a family at the same time. I know of 1 person.That was the great thing about floor trading. At the latest, you were done at 3:15. You could go to after school things and have a “normal’ family life. Of course, as a trader you are constantly on edge and it was the most hyper competitive environment on earth.Where it really was brought home to me was listening to Sheryl Sandburg on her book promotion. At investment banks, when women get reviewed, the reviews are by the book. There isn’t a lot of conversation. Firms are afraid of lawsuits etc. When men are reviewed, there is no fear of a lawsuit so reviews are much more conversational.Probably more telling, if you go to a bar at 5PM and see an older gentleman with a far younger woman (say me at age 53 with someone that is 27) having a drink, what goes through your mind? Play that same scene in your mind with 27 year old man. What goes through your mind? Most people would say the man and younger woman were potentially having some sort of an affair-even if they were really discussing business and they were doing informal mentoring.I know a woman that was trying to raise a fund. A male who worked for a state pension fund said if she slept with him, he’d invest.I would strongly encourage women to talk about it-and not backbite or ostracize women that do. But, the stories have to be real, and the solutions they used to deal with it real. It can’t be made up because these days they will be found out and not being truthful will hurt more than anything else.Those are some huge hurdles that women have to get over.