It’s A Man’s World

The London Paper  –  21 Aug 2009

‘No-one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy!’ Whoever said that definitely wasn’t referring to the world of investment banking. First of all, today’s rules mean that even a lecherous wink at a female colleague can be lethal for your career prospects. Secondly, there are so few front-office female bankers that there ain’t much fraternization to be done. What’s interesting about this second point is that a recent Cambridge report claims that women dominate most other ‘status professions’ yet the City is still populated by men. How so?

I’d estimate that around 15% of salespeople, traders, analysts and corporate financiers were female at the four banks I worked for and they held even fewer senior positions. Indeed, at one bank only four of the 258 managing directors were women! There are two main possible explanations: either the City is ‘institutionally sexist’ with barriers preventing women entering its hallowed gates or women tend not to be interested in becoming bankers.

First of all, I have no doubt that when sizing up the merits of two candidates with similar skills it is unfortunately the male candidate who is more likely to be offered a banking job. This is mainly because of an assumption that women will go off and procreate. Whilst this ‘concern’ is a general one it is particularly ‘relevant’ at a bank because extended maternity leave can reek havoc with client relations or corporate deals.

Of course, this reluctance to employ women is extenuated by the fear of gender discrimination cases. Predictably, a class action of $1.2bn was filed against that bank with only four female MDs by six ladies. Whatever the merits of this case it is clear that every time a woman sues her bank she reduces the chances of other women ever being employed at one. Whilst certain cases are clearly legitimate there are occasional chancers who just want to exit their career with a nest egg who are not doing their sisters any favours.

I also think that women tend to be less interested in becoming bankers. One of the four female MDs at my previous bank once told me that the reason she was virtually alone was because ‘women have got better things to do than slaving away 80 hours a week’. At the risk of generalizing, my experience suggests it is men who are more willing to throw away the best years of their lives working their arses off for they are more likely to have the requisite competitiveness, greed, insecurity and money obsession that can drive such madness. That’s why, despite my non-stop attempts to dissuade people from banking, I’ve received loads of emails from male readers asking how to get a City job and not one from a woman.

‘Balance is for wimps!’ used to be the City catchphrase. Whilst some women have bought that crap most are too smart to get the work-life balance so wrong … I just wish I could say the same of men!

Thoughts ?

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