Career Confidential: On Wall Street, Sexualized Views Of Women “Are So Out In The Open”
I didn’t come from this world. I came from working first in what many would consider a much more liberal place, with creative, Hollywood types. I always thought bankers would be more politically correct and buttoned-up and less brash. than my other clients. I imagined that bankers were “stiff upper lip” kind of people, astute and refined, at least compared to some of the creative people I had worked with before.
By now, after five years of doing this job, I’ve heard and seen so much that that idea has gone entirely out the window.
It is still mainly men everywhere you look. It’s very much a boys’ club. The language a lot of these men use — the crude language, the constant swearing, and just how sexualized their views of women are — is so out in the open.
I see it and hear it and it is completely shocking. No one seems to blink an eye.
There is a female managing director at one of the big investment banks who is regularly on the verge of being ousted. She is really good at her job and makes a lot of money, but the minute she does something that could be interpreted in a negative way she is ganged up upon. She has to create loyalty with other people in senior positions in various departments — alliances basically — to make sure that she stays in her job.
She could do the smallest thing, like not know about a report at a meeting and suddenly people start saying: “Oh, she should be fired. She’s not that smart. She wants too much money. Why is she here?”
Another thing that really shocked me was when a chief operating officer of a well-known investment bank asked me to find him an executive assistant. 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.
The place where women are most prominent on Wall Street is sales, but they’re often just laughed at, as if sales were just populated by dumb pretty blondes. If something goes wrong in sales, people will say, “Well, it’s understandable why that is,” as if there is a bunch of incompetent women running it. Women are so vastly underrepresented overall, especially in areas like IT, risk management and prime brokerage.
It is appalling to me, especially considering where I came from, how prevalent this behavior is.
There is so little effort made to cover it up. Even with new regulations and pressure to comply with regulations, there is seemingly no effort to be politically correct. There is this pervasive sexist view, and it seems okay to think that way, and express it without reservations.
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