• Wed, Mar 21 2012

Insider Confirms Every Fear We Had About Wall Street Sexism

Though I used to write about the financial industry, read books about Wall Street culture (read Erin Duffy’s Bond Girl), accumulated studies on sexism and the lack of female promotions in finance and I have interviewed dozens of people who have worked on the Street including those traders that are so often villainized in movies and film, in the back of my mind I have always thought, “But I haven’t ever worked on a trading floor (walked through quite a few), so do I really know what it is like?” Is it really this boys’ club of testosterone where men are “swinging” their golf clubs around, talking about lude sex acts and loudly analyzing the body parts of any female that they come into contact with, including their colleagues?

I mostly think this way because I have a few good friends who work on Wall Street, both men and women. I have never been offended by the men and for the women, I know they have had some bad experiences but no one has come crying to me or quit their jobs. Is it really as bad as films like Wall Street, Boiler Room and The Good Guy make it out to be? Well art is an actually very accurate depiction of life on Wall Street. In a recent post for Buzzfeed.com Alex Belanger confirms all of our fears of Wall Street sexism.

In the article she says that the boys’ club environment is still very much there and the men don’t even try to hide their sexualized views. Everything is out in the open. The women are also held up to a much higher standard and if the mess up even the smallest thing they are labeled as incompetent. She talked about the more female-friendly sales divisions of Wall Street firms but that they have been come to known as the “dumb blond” sections of the Street.  However, it was the hiring practices of executive assistants that was the most upsetting in my opinion. Belanger wrote:

“Now, a lot of executive assistants have MBAs and are super well-educated. But this guy was specifically asking for a woman who didn’t have aspirations, who wasn’t ambitious. “It’s a fairly simple job,” he said to me. “I just basically want someone who will show up. Someone who will be there.”

I’d think most smart people would want someone with drive who would add value to the company and want to move up and produce. It really spoke volumes to me on his outlook of what he thinks women are capable of in banking. He just wanted someone who would stay in that job for five or 10 years. A body in a chair.

More often than not, though, it’s known that they want female executive assistants, with “young” and “pretty” tacitly on the list of requirements. One client, however, said he didn’t want a pretty assistant, though, because then he’d have to share her with the other bankers and he didn’t want that. (Often bankers will split assistants.) If an assistant is pretty, all of the bankers want to talk to her and have something to look at all day. That would be a distraction. In general, women being around means that they can’t let go completely, that they can’t be as free as when it’s just guys.”

So there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth. Not that we didn’t have some hints about this. According to a new study by the City University of New York‘s Center for Urban Research the median compensation for a white man in the financial industry between 2005 and 2009 was $154,500, 55%  more than that for a white woman. Wendi S. Lazar, a partner at the law firm Outten & Golden, who has long represented female executives in finance, told The New York Times. “I see the same pattern over and over again,” she said. “The women who make it to a position where they’re really going to jump up to a high level absolutely get set up to fail at that level, because the hierarchy remains male in this business.” Many women face this kind of discrimination in other industries but finance is one of the toughest, especially for those that want to have families and succeed. In the U.S., women account for only 2.7% of the chief executives in the financial industry, and 16.8% of the executive officers, according to a study by Catalyst. The lack of women in leadership positions hurts the women coming up through the trenches that have no female mentor to look up to and aspire to be like.

According to the latest Mergis Group Women in Finance survey, less than half (48%) of women in accounting and finance are satisfied with the progression of their careers and nearly three-quarters (73%) of women in accounting and finance believe they face a dissimilar set of obstacles as opposed to their male counterparts.

Basically, there seems to not be even the slightest movement towards political correctness on Wall Street, according to Belanger. This behavior makes for great television and movie fodder but in reality, it’s a pretty sad state.

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