A Gender Gap in Values

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Are top female executives in finance more motivated by "soft" factors like respect, pride, meaning and purpose, than their male counterparts? That's the thrust of a recent report by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the New York-based Center for Work-Life Policy, published by HarvardBusiness.org.

The center's data covering five top financial firms shows 54 percent of women in top jobs are considering leaving their positions, compared with just 22 percent of men. What's noteworthy, Hewlett writes, is the departing female executives' reasons and career destinations.

Less than one in four wanted to leave to spend more time with family. Instead, most planned to shift to other sectors - especially non-profits.

"The fact is this recession has made high echelon jobs in the financial sector less desirable for women," Hewlett writes. With Wall Street's former blue-chip brand names beset by financial troubles, bad publicity and low morale, "The psychological and emotional perks that once helped balance the time commitments of high pressure 'extreme' jobs in the financial sector are waning."

Hewlett asserts this downturn in prestige affects women's career priorities more than men's. "Companies that fail to deliver respect or pride - and jobs that fail to deliver meaning or purpose - are the equivalent of a cut in pay for many high-flying women. They want jobs that make them feel good about going to work..."

Are Female Bankers Wired Differently?

That conclusion could inflame a long-running debate over whether female bankers are wired differently than male bankers. While Hewlett and the center she founded are prominent advocates for workplace diversity, many Wall Streeters - females in particular, I suspect - vigorously dispute the idea that external reinforcement ("respect and pride") and other non-monetary rewards matter far more to women than to men.

After all, money and competitive victory for its own sake have long been regarded as central values of Wall Street culture. So any suggestion that the Street's highest-achieving women don't share the dominant value system, could be perceived as hindering the career advancement prospects of female bankers generally.

Almost 40 percent of the women in the center's files who contemplate quitting finance jobs intend to shift to other sectors - with not-for-profit organizations coming in high on their wish list.

Their exodus from Wall Street is likely to have a domino effect, notes Hewlett, thinning the ranks of female mentors and role models available to the industry's younger female employees, who may then find it harder to climb the ladder.

And those who leave could end up regretting their choice. "There are dangers attached to trading money for meaning and purpose," writes Hewlett. "Given women's enhanced role as family breadwinners, these choices might not work well over the long run."

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