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Women Lawyers: Don't Let Your Wall Street Sisters Quit

Vivia Chen

September 30, 2010

Women_in_Waldorf-AstoriaThink it's tough for a gal to climb the ladder at a law firm? Well, law firms are paradigms of progressiveness compared to Wall Street. At most big law firms, women at least have each other for company.

Not so in those high-glossed halls of high finance where women are getting scarce: "Young women are becoming more rare in the country's banks, brokerage houses and insurance companies. Since 2000, the number of women between the ages of 20 and 35 working in finance has dropped by 315,000, or 16.5 percent, while the number of men in that age range grew by 93,000, or 7.3 percent," reports the Wall Street Journal, which looked at data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that tracked finance workers from 2002 to 2009.

That decline is especially steep among the youngest women--a 21.8 percent drop for those age 20 to 24, notes the WSJ: "That suggests young women are either not as attracted to entry-level finance-industry jobs or aren't being hired for the posts that are available."

Why should women lawyers care about what's happening to their Wall Street sisters? Because their counterparts in finance are arguably a rich source of business--and that source is drying up.

It's unfortunate timing: Women are steadily flocking into the legal profession, while women on Wall Street are leaving in droves. Women's progress might be stagnant in the legal profession--but at least it's not regressive.

Theories abound as to why women are disappearing on Wall Street. There's the usual women life/work balance explanation. Grace Tsiang, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, "theorized that these women are having and raising children rather than staying on the job," reports the WSJ.

Life/work balance conflicts have become the fall-back explanation for why women quit these days. But, come on, does that explain that steep drop in the 20- to 24-year-old group?

I suspect something else is going on. Could it be that Wall Street is much more chauvinistic than law firms? Certainly, it's notable that major investment banks like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and now Goldman Sachs have all faced big sexual discrimination lawsuits.

There's no shortage of anecdotes about sexism on the Street. One former Lehman Brother banker told the WSJ that "her female coworkers got smaller bonuses because they didn't golf or pal around with male managing directors." She added, "There were a couple that tried to be buddy-buddy with the guys, but it never really worked. It wasn't like the 1960s, getting slapped on the butt all the time. [The discrimination] was very subtle."

Maybe subtle. Maybe not. But the bottom line is that Wall Street is a man's world--increasingly so. And people wonder why women lawyers can't rake in those big institutional clients.

Related post: "Is Equal Pay More of an Issue for Women J.D.s or Women M.B.A.s?""

 Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Photo: National Archives


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Women are not being hired for the positions. There are jobs and I'm sure several females are applying for them. This theory by Ms.Dr. Tsiang is ridiculous. It is called word-of-mouth: You cannot climb the ladder on Wall Street if you're black or female. It's not worth trying. Look no further than the gender imbalance in the feeder schools of the Ivy League - more men get in than women. And, these WASPY types stick together.

It's not that women are leaving wall street - they're just getting fired because they suck.

I take note of your statement, "Because their counterparts in finance are arguably a rich source of business--and that source is drying up." I guess in your world view, people should only patronize businesses of the same gender or ethnic group.

So, now that you are venturing forth into other fields, when are you going to run an article decrying how many guys are serving in combat and being killed in military service relative to the number of women? Think about all the lucrative ADA suits women lawyers are missing out on that they would be able to file if more women were returning from Afghanistan without limbs.

Anyway, to counter attitudes such as yours, maybe I'll have to start eating a lot less Chinese food, or doing fewer hookers, and keep my money just circulating among fellow white guys.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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