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Young women in banking struggle to relate to female managing directors

I'm a woman and I work on the fixed income trading floor of a major international bank. I have four children and after each one I have been more ambitious than ever. People blame pregancy, maternity leave and childcare for the lack of women in banking. - Apparently women with children don't want to come back after they've had babies. That's crap. Pregnancy is distracting, but after three to four weeks' recovery from childbirth you can be doing what you need to do remotely. I know. I've done it. 

Why aren't there mid-ranking women on the trading floor then? In fact, why aren't there more female vice presidents and executive directors across all divisions of the banking industry? Politics.

Banks today do a good job of hiring women to their junior roles. If you go into a bank now you're going to see a lot of old white men and a lot of non-dominant junior women. That's a big shock to the women who join. You thought the world had moved on? In banking, it hasn't.

What about the female managing directors? Yes, you'll see some of those too, but you'll also see that they're not normal. The senior women in banks are mostly characterless and childless, and it's by choice. They rose to the top in a different environment and they're very oriented towards the men. They're not going to help you, and that can be a shock when you're a young woman who's used to collaborating.  

The fact is that banking is a very weird and difficult workplace where the men have all the power and young and often attractive women are typically juniors. 

In this environment, it's easy to be a woman at the bottom of the pile - to be an analyst or an associate who gets promoted automatically simply for working to a particular standard. But once you become a vice president, promotion is far more subjective and women start to struggle.

The problem is that your boss will almost certainly be a man. Some men in banking are great - and they usually have daughters; many are not. Men tend to be a lot less structured than women. This means that if you want to gain the attention of your male boss it helps to do so in an unstructured way - to go for drinks after work, to play soccer, or golf. 

Women tend to approach things differently. If a woman wants to get a boss's attention for her achievements, she might schedule a promotion or pay-rise conversation to talk through everything she's done. Unstructured men don't like this: they see women who take this approach as being too ambitious and aggressive, and the reaction is usually, "tone it down."

As a woman, you can play the unstructured game. You can buddy-up with your boss and start hanging out in bars after the markets close, but this creates problems. I know male bankers who are afraid to even ask young women on the floor to fetch the coffees, let alone to go out for drinks with them.  And even if women do get to know their male bosses in a less formal setting, they need to be careful not to put a foot wrong. - Men badmouth their peers all the time, but if you do this as a woman you're judged very differently. For men, criticizing others is "correcting mistakes"; for women it's "non-collaborative." Believe me, you hear that a lot in finance. And if your boss doesn't like you, you're screwed.

Of course, there are diversity committees. I've sat in on then. But they're usually just fluff and complaining. The average tenure of a diversity and inclusion officer is one year. - People resign when they realize they can't achieve anything and have no way of proving their value.

So what can banks do to keep women? Rewards and punishments. If the men in charge were told their salaries would be doubled if they filled half their teams with women, they'd do it in a flash. The same would happen if they had their bonuses taken if teams weren't a 50:50 gender split.

Radical action needs to be taken. There are plenty of brilliant and talented women who want to make their careers in banking, but because of this industry's systemic cultural problem, they're leaving when they're only halfway through.

Susan Hausser is a pseudonym

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance.

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Photo by Giulia Gravia on Unsplash

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AUTHORSusan Hausser Insider Comment
  • An
    Anonymous
    19 July 2021

    Although, this is an old article, the fact remains that many women do leave the industry after having children, and many want to do so.

    The 'boss will almost certainly be a man' comment is plain wrong. These days, women have a far better chance percentage wise of progressing compared to men.

  • Re
    ReporterGirl
    12 September 2019

    I worked with a Wall Street client who clearly didn't have value the skills I brought to the table. It paid below market rate and I left.

  • Ja
    James Lockwood
    27 August 2019

    The writing here is terrible. Step it up. This isn’t buzzfeed. This isn’t Facebook. Re read your sentences and see if they make any sense at all! I’m with another commenter. Surely no one actually thinks like this.

    Every woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with (and working for) would likely baulk at the OK Magazine nonsense printed here.

    This isn’t even the worst article on here. Check out Deuche Bank Cheat Sheet (no cheat sheet attached) where the first paragraph laughs at interns who can’t spell or write grammatically correct sentences.

    The hypocrisy is palpable. Do you guys even have an editor? Very close to unsubbing.

  • To
    Tomm_Bie
    22 August 2019

    "What about the female managing directors? Yes, you'll see some of those too, but you'll also see that they're not normal. The senior women in banks are mostly characterless and childless, and it's by choice. They rose to the top in a different environment and they're very oriented towards the men."

    There's your whole article right there. It's not "pregnancy", it's an entire series of sacrifices that most men won't make, but even fewer women will, or only will for a few years before priorities shift. It's as wrong to tell women to behave like men (leaving them miserable and half a generation missing) as it is to cry "sexism" when women make different choices.

  • co
    coolgreenlime
    18 August 2019

    I agree with a lot of things said in the article, even though the radical tone will prevent it from reaching wide audience and approval. But whoa! Look at this outcry below! Not sure whether those contesting the message understand that their emotional protest proves the author's point wonderfully. Top-level executives are people who grew up maybe 40 years ago, in full-swing backlash; they don't change as fast as the world around them. Many men admit on the side that they feel uneasy thinking of bringing even brightest women to top tables as that would mean things would change. And status quo is just so much more comfortable, safer and familiar.

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