“As you know, we are business casual here. I trust that you’ll dress appropriately. If you wear a tight skirt and someone smacks your ass, don’t come running to me or to HR about it. This is a place of business. Not a nightclub. The team is fantastic, one of the best in the Business. They work hard, play hard, and are some of the funniest human beings you will ever meet in your life. Personally, I think being a little crazy is what makes us so good at what we do, so prepare yourself for just about anything.“
The above quote is from the new fabulous book Bond Girl from Harper Collins. It is about a young woman named Alex Garrett, right out of University of Virginia, who lands a job as an analyst at one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. It has been her life long dream to work on Wall Street but when she finally gets there she realizes it is quite different than she thought it would be. From blatant sexual harassment by clients, to coworkers eating the contents of a vending machine to office romance to the financial crisis of 2008, Bond Girl covers everything. The book paints a vivid, and often humorous, picture of what it is like to be a woman on Wall Street and a working woman in general. According to BookReporter’s Roberta O’Hara:
“Alex Garrett is Bridget Jones getting past her charming boss, Daniel Cleaver. She’s Cannie Shapiro putting behind her the horrible boyfriend who wrote about sleeping with fat girls. She’s a new heroine who embodies such irresistible qualities as humor, awkward grace and vulnerability with a resolve to stay on the path she has set for herself, despite the obstacles. If you liked Bridget and Cannie, you will love Alex.”
And who better to write a book like this then someone who experienced it first hand? Erin Duffy, the author, spent more than a decade working in fixed-income sales on Wall Street. We were lucky enough to chat with Erin about her new book (which everyone should go out and read right now. You can order it here), her life on Wall Street and being a human punching bag.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I knew I wanted to write a book to talk about the psychology of Wall Street. I was one of many people laid off in 2008, and when I was unemployed I needed to do something to keep myself from going crazy. I had no idea if it would be published, or if people would care at all about the industry, but I didn’t like what the masses were being fed by the media. I wanted to show the kinder side of the industry, so that was my main goal. I hope I succeeded!
Did you worry some of your former colleagues would be mad?
No. I truly didn’t because I knew I was fair. If anything I hoped they felt I captured some of the good times and the magic we shared. Things people had forgotten. If anything I wanted it to be a love letter to my friends. I deliberately didn’t treat any of the main characters who worked on the floor in a way that was negative. I didn’t want to. I loved them, and still do. The overwhelming majority are proud of the result.
What were your favorite things about working in that industry?
There is a camaraderie in the industry that is second to none. It’s a family, and I love that. It’s not an easy work environment, and for that reason having friends who look out for each other is hugely important. I was lucky to have that. I miss it terribly.
What were your least favorite or most challenging things in that industry?
Sales is hard. The first rule of sales is that the customer is always right, except sometimes,they’re not. It’s irrelevant. You have to take the hit. If someone had a bad morning and feels like taking it out on you, you let them. Being a human punching bag isn’t easy, but it’s part of the job. That was always something I struggled with. Someone is screaming at you on the phone and you’re thinking, “This isn’t my fault”! It might not be, but no one cares. Welcome to sales.
Alex had to do some crazy things as part of her job (the giant wheel of cheese comes to mind.) Can you tell us one crazy thing you had to do?
I was lucky. I had wonderful bosses, I never had to do what Alex had to do. That said, let me think, hmmmm…..the craziest thing I ever had to do. I did work 24 hours once to wait for pitch books to be finished. My boss came in the next morning and I was asleep at my desk, literally, face down on my notebook, my hands covered in paper cuts from stuffing fed-ex packs all night. It was horrendous. Thankfully, my boss was kind enough to send me home and give me the day off. But being at the office alone in the dark at 3a.m. was pretty brutal.
Why did you decide to leave Wall Street [Erin is now writing full time]?
It was a life I am proud I had. I miss it, in ways, a lot. I had the opportunity to write a second book and there was no way I could do two jobs at once when life on Wall Street occupied so much of my time. It wasn’t possible. I left to pursue a dream, but truth be told, I cried my eyes out the day I left. It was really sad to leave the life behind. There’s no other life like it. I didn’t have a choice. Writing is my dream. When your dream presents itself, you grab it.
In the book, Alex is hit on by her male colleagues and clients all the time or is spoken to in ways that would definitely count as sexual harassment. What is your advice for women in finance who also experience that? Alex didn’t run to HR because she knew she really couldn’t do that if she wanted to do well in the company, but where do you draw the line for when you actually do need to do something about it?
Listen, sexual harassment exists everywhere. You will never convince me otherwise. As a woman you have two options: disarm it yourself, or seek help from higher powers. I don’t think that one option is right or one is wrong, and there are definitely shades of grey in between. My advice, and it’s worth the blog this is printed on, is to be smart. There are occasions where you can handle it on your own, there are others where you need a senior person to get involved. Where that line lies is different for everyone and it’s probably a gut instinct. So listen to your gut. I certainly don’t think that anyone should endure unprofessional behavior if it’s malicious for any reason.
Would you recommend that young women pursue a career in finance? What advice would you give them?
I think finance is an amazing career. It’s one I have done and loved and respect tremendously, but there are certain people who will thrive in it, and others who will wilt. It demands a certain personality type. If you are strong willed, thick skinned, and used to male sarcasm and ribbing, then you will love it. If you’re not, then it’s he’ll on earth. It’s not for everyone, but if it is for you, then it’s a life that you will be proud to have. I know I am.