Why individual managers are still driving women out of investment banking

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Morgan Stanley has lactation rooms for new mothers who want to, um, stockpile. Goldman Sachs offers onsite childcare in its New York and New Jersey offices, presumably so its employees can work late and still look after their babies. JPMorgan encourages its female employees to enrol into its maternity care programme in their first trimester (when most won’t have told friends and family about their pregnancy). And then there are the countless programmes aimed at reintegrating female employees back into the workforce after maternity leave.

In short, investment banks want to show that they care, through a range of facilities that allow flexible working for new parents and that, in theory, encourage employee loyalty. They also help fend off accusations that front office investment banking careers and raising children are inherently incompatible, hence the ongoing huge drop off rate of women in the senior ranks.

But all the top-down policies encouraged by the HR and executive teams of investment banks are nothing without the buy-in of individual managers and team members and this, suggest female bankers, is where the mismatch occurs.

‘Ellen’, a former Barclays and HSBC investment banker, says these values need to be “embedded in the fabric” of the bank. “If your own boss considers any time away from your desk to be skiving, or your team consider that they have been discriminated against because the pregnant one is doing yoga while they do all the work, then you will never be happy, and in spite of their best intentions, your employer will not see its family-friendly policies translate into a happy and well-adjusted workforce,” she says. “All the free yoga, workplace gyms, and on-site breast-milk refrigeration facilities in the world won’t change that.”

The culture of facetime

Essentially, presenteeism combined with a need to work long hours are at odds with investment banks’ protestations of flexible working. This, rather obviously, starts at the entry level where long periods of tedium are punctuated by the occasional need to hit tight deadlines through extreme working hours, but there’s still a need to be seen in the office at all times.

“This is one of the key challenges today,” says Louisa Symington-Mills, chief operating office at private equity firm LPEQ and founder of Citymothers, which provides peer support to women balancing a City career with raising children. “It’s all very well HR departments having great policies and glossy manuals, but if line managers aren’t buying in to them (or don’t know about them) then you won’t see much take up. An awful lot comes down to the attitudes of colleagues and bosses, irrespective of what is said by HR.”

As we’ve pointed to previously, a lot of banter in investment banking involves the amount of time spent in the office, with anyone leaving early ruthlessly mocked by their colleagues. If this attitude presides, working from home in order to accommodate childcare commitments will be frowned upon.

“In my current role, I have the good fortune of working for a boss who detests presenteeism, does not question my occasional requests to work from home, and measures performance on demonstrable output, not on number of hours spent at a desk, or how late you leave the office,” said Ellen. “Not everyone is like this, and in the current economic climate no one wants to be in the gym at lunchtime while their boss is looking for names to go on his headcount reductions target list.”

Blythe Masters, JPMorgan's most senior female trader who left yesterday after 27 years at the bank, barely took time out of the office to give birth - famously continuing to be connected to the office when checking into hospital to have her daughter. Perhaps it takes aggressive targets to ensure more parity - Ruth Porat, CFO at Morgan Stanley, said yesterday that the bank now asks its business heads to identify minorities (including women), who could be promoted for succession planning. If there are none available in-house, they are required to hire from competitors. Whether this makes investment banking any more mother-friendly, or simply means successful women still need to sacrifice a family or install a house-husband/extensive childcare arrangements, remains to be seen.

There’s little universality in the investment banking sector when it comes to supporting parents throughout their career, says Symington-Mills: “There’s a huge dispersion amongst employers in the City – some can be very proactive, others much more traditional. At the proactive end are those that offer private rooms for mothers who need to express milk during working hours and ‘in-house’ childcare facilities in addition to publicising agile working possibilities. At the other end of the scale there is little to no recognition of working parents’ needs and opportunities to work flexibly aren’t shouted about.”

As parenting responsibilities are increasingly shared by mothers and fathers, and men start requesting more flexible working in the financial sector, the hope is that it will be more widely taken up. Symington-Mills has just launched Cityfathers, backed by the likes of RBS and M&G Investments, because of “a push for more parent friendly initiatives”, she says.

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