Wall Street Women Talk Diversity

by Derek Loosvelt | July 25, 2012

A recent New York Times article entitled "On Wall St., Gender Bias Runs Deep" points out that more than 50 percent of workers in finance are female but just 3 percent of finance CEOs are women. The piece also quotes Ilene H. Lang, the president and CEO of Catalyst, a New York research and consulting nonprofit that focuses on women’s career advancement, as saying that what's holding women back from rising the corporate ladder on Wall Street (and in other macho-cultured industries) is not necessarily the desire to raise and/or spend time with family but a stereotypical bias. And this bias, according to Lang, "is among the toughest barriers women face." She explains:

"[It defines] what women should do, what they can do, what they’re good at. Men are natural leaders and women are not; men are strong and women are weak; and men are in charge and women are caretakers. These are gender stereotypes. It's what social culture is all about."

Lang, who holds a Harvard MBA and has been atop Catayst for nearly a decade, also notes that the notion that aggressive women are unattractive and not very nice (to put it kindly) still stands, especially on Wall Street:

"Women who behave in those macho ways are then perceived as being very masculine, and that’s considered very unattractive. While men are aggressive, women are labeled with the ‘B word.’ It is behavior that’s admired in men but despised in women.”

Recently, Vault conducted its own survey of bankers (the 2012 Banking Survey, the full results of which are forthcoming in just over a month) and in the course of this survey we asked more than 3,500 Wall Street workers to comment on, among other aspects of life at their firms, diversity and diversity hiring practices. And what they told us on the subject of diversity with respect to women is that banks are doing a pretty good job of recruiting more women at the lower levels. In fact, a handful of firms' incoming full-time and summer analyst classes are nearly 50/50 male to female. However, bankers also told us in overwhelming numbers that diversity pretty much stops there (or at the associate level) and there are very few women at the upper echelons of banks, which supports the stats the Times piece pointed out.

To get a sense of why this is, let's here from the women. Here's one female banker who took the Vault survey and who substantiates Lang's stereotypical bias theory:

"It still feels like different styles are not embraced, specifically the female style that many women are most comfortable with and that is not compatible wtih advancement. Women still need to take on more typical male characteristics to get ahead."

Here's another female banker talking about how biases affect advancement:

"I believe the most senior leaders are committed to diversity, and a good portion of the managing directors are as well. Occasionally, though, you will run into managers that turn a blind eye to their assumptions and biases and unfortunately one is all it takes to derail a person's career or push them to opt out."

Another banker notes that family is the reason why women might not continue further up the ladder:

"The lifestyle of this job causes many women to quit once they have children. The firm has tried everything to fix this, but the job is 60 hours a week, which is the one thing they cannot change."

But other insiders say you can have both things, a family and a career:

"We do a superb job with women in the first few years out of school. We still would like to have more women make it into the senior levels of the firm. We see tremendous value in having a diverse workforce. As a woman and a mom, I have felt very supported in my time here."

And others, like the below woman, point to the fact that there hasn't been a focus at the senior level with respect to retention and promoting.

"We spend a lot of time talking about it and sending all the right messages with focus and energy on diversity efforts. But we haven't made any real progress where it counts: the number of diverse and senior female partners."

Whatever the reason, it's clear that, as hundreds of bankers told us during the course of our survey, although Wall Street might be improving its efforts to hire, mentor, and promote women, the industry still has a very long way to go until it can truly consider itself to be an equal opportunity employer.

Read More:
On Wall St., Gender Bias Runs Deep (NYT)
Can Marissa Mayer "Have It All"?
Terri Dial (1949-2012): Trailblazer for Women in Finance
Are Wall Street Women's Networks Killing Women's Chances of Rising to CEO?
There Are Few Women on Wall Street Because There Are Too Many Weiners

Filed Under: Finance | Job Search | Workplace Issues


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