Not that long ago, financial employees said trading floors could be particularly toxic environments, filled with "locker room" language meant to intimidate the weak. One male trader found his trading room dominated by a group comprised largely of white males. When it came time to pick employees for training, older women and foreign-born workers were often ignored in favor of attractive, younger women. Because training is often the key to advancement in a business growing in complexity, the situation often gave young women would more opportunities to move ahead - at the expense of the other employees.
More recently, investment banks and other financial firms have taken affirmative-action steps to resolve some - but not all - of these practices. However, the constant specter of outsourcing is a new weapon for bullies to wield against their targets, and intimidation in subtler ways is growing, as well.
In one instance, a young male associate portfolio manager ran afoul of his superior when they were both attracted to the same female colleague. Instead of threatening him physically, as he might have in the old days, the boss attacked the associate's work. When the associate passed along research prepared ahead of a trade, the boss loudly proclaimed, "This has to be wrong," for all to hear, sometimes cursing for emphasis. The fact that each time the information proved to be correct didn't matter, the associate recalls. "In the financial industry," he says, "judgment is so important that even the unfounded perception you may lack it can cost you advancement."
The situation can get worse if such accusations make it onto the employee's U5 form, an exit form unique to those who are registered to sell securities, said Samuel J. Samaro, a partner with the Hackensack, N.J., law firm Pashman Stein, which specializes in employment law. If a bully should set you up to be axed, "the U5 could follow along behind you and impact your ability to find another job," he says.
What's the recourse? Our trader says, "Climb to the top of the food chain by learning everything you can about the business and gathering those advanced degrees. The bullies on Wall Street prey on fear."
In other words, the more you know, the less fear you give off for a bully to sniff out.