« The Careerist Goes on the Couch | Main | Asian American Lawyers Still Underdogs »

Gender Gap on Wall Street--Do Top Women Bankers Care?

Vivia Chen

February 2, 2011

Fotolia_15934002_XS For a company that sets the bar for management, training, and all things associated with corporate excellence, I'm shocked at how badly Goldman Sachs's chief strategist, Abby Joseph Cohen (pictured below), handled her interview with Deborah Solomon of The New York Times  last Sunday. Cohen was defensive, evasive, and humorless--three big strikes in my interview book.

Did Cohen, one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, skip her session with the media trainer, or is she really just not introspective?

Her biggest gaffe, as some commentators (like Dealbreaker's Bess Levin) have pointed out, is that she totally doesn't get why people might be curious about her sense of "responsibility for the economic meltdown of 2009," which, as Solomon points out, she "failed to foresee." Cohen's response: "That’s an odd question to be asking me."

But what was also striking to me was how indifferent she seems about the dearth of women on Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs in particular. Here's the exchange between Cohen and Solomon:

As a partner at Goldman Sachs and one of the best-known market analysts in this country, you’re surely aware that women continue to be thinly represented among the senior ranks on Wall Street. Why is that?
Let’s think about it in the following way: We can only deal with the pool of young women who make themselves available and express interest in investment banking. 

I assume there’s no shortage of candidates.
But it’s not necessarily 50-50. When we go to various MBA programs, for example, and I’m just giving you an illustrative number, if 30 percent of the class is women, then we would probably end up hiring about 30 percent women.

But if women make up 30 percent of MBA programs, as has been reported, why do they represent only 12 percent of the current partners at Goldman Sachs?
I don’t think that we are proud of it, and I think we do have aspirations of improving the numbers.

News_notable_37_030607 She didn't say anything wrong, but neither did she show any sense of urgency that the situation should change. I'm a bit surprised by her "that's the way the numbers add up" response, because the situation in the financial world for women is bleak. As I reported several months ago, there's been a 16.5 percent drop in the number of women in finance between the ages of 20 and 35 since 2000, while men in that age group increased by 7.3 percent. As I pointed out in that post, women lawyers are paradigms of success compared to their Wall Street sisters.

I might be reading too much into it, but Cohen reminded me of some of the more senior women I worked with when I was a junior associate in the eighties--that is, women who looked out for their own careers but were largely unresponsive--and perhaps unsympathetic--to the women below them. Their attitude is that they defied the odds with little help--and so should everyone else.

Perhaps Cohen and the women I came across represent another generation. And perhaps Cohen simply represents the I-banking ethos, where both men and women are so focused on their own performance and how that affects the bottom line that the larger social issues are just not that relevant.

 In any case, the statistics of women on Wall Street and Cohen's reaction to them don't bode well for women in that sector. And it also doesn't bode well for the women lawyers who are trying to break the male stranglehold on those coveted financial institutional clients.


Get the latest from The Careerist--free! Sign up today--see box on upper right corner.

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:  Monkey Business / Fotolia.com


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I have worked both in IBanking and law firms and found the same lack of support and mentoring from more senior women. I never felt mentored by women bankers and lawyers more senior than me. They seemed more preoccupied with making sure they're accepted by the men in the organizations. This discusses reminds me of an article by Susan Faludi in Harper's, which explored the issue of feminist women from each generation failing to pass on the baton to the next generation by not supporting or connecting with younger women. Here's the link: http://harpers.org/archive/2010/10/0083140

I think the point here is that women are not programmed to help each other.While asking may be the key to getting as Vicki pointed out, we must learn to network better and to support each other better.

@ Becky. I used to work on Wall Street. Bankers in general are in and out of the profession - many retire really, really rich by 35 - that's a big part of the reason they are in and out.

Her point, which is absolutely not ludicrous, that women lawyers are paradigms of success is based on the fact that there are more than just a handful of women lawyers as compared to women bankers. It doesn't really matter how much money they make since the female lawyers tend to stick around over the long haul and have successful careers when compared to the bankers who are in and out. How many female bankers are in it for the long haul? A scant few. Older women lawyers paved the way and encouraged the hiring and retention of female lawyers while female wall streeters do not and that's what I count as sucess.

What? Not as many women as men want to be partners or otherwise focus on their careers? Not in my crowd (I graduated in the early '90s and hang with older and younger lawyers of both genders.)

Men & women ARE very different in how they perceive various situations and how they behave/react. Also, even when men and woman behave in exactly the same way, their actions are perceived differently (e.g., the assertive, confident, man vs. the ball-busting, pushy bitch.) No wonder there are different outcomes.

Two interesting books, "Women Don't Ask" and "Power" explore the phenomena of success and what people (and women in particular) can do to fix things.

Women don't ask for what they want - like my former mentor Gary used to say, "If you don't ASK, you don't GET." If women would just ask, they would find that they get alot more. No one can read minds - well, maybe Kreskin.

Also, the people who get ahead are the ones who actively take charge of their careers. Life is not fair. Being competent isn't enough, you have to be able to read the priorities of those above you and connect with them.

I negotiate for a living, so I am used to persuading people to see my point of view. I've noticed that women are strong advocates for everyone else but when it comes to themselves, they wilt. This can only change if women recognize this and make a conscious decision to change their behavior.

Again Vivia is engaging in the fantasy that as many women as guys wanted to become partners at Goldman, or otherwise as likely to focus on their career as guys are. This is not true, and, in the entirety of human history, has never been true anywhere in the world. Nor will it ever be true.

To say that women lawyers are paradigms of success compared to women on Wall Street is another ludicrous point. The successful women on Wall Street make millions of dollars a year more than substantially all Big Law partners.

Over the past couple of decades, hedge funds, which are very small, entrepreneurial Wall Street shops, have opened. Who has opened them? Men. Almost all have been by men - I recently read where all 100 of the top 100 hedge funds are run by men. Do women have anyone to blame for that? Yes. Themselves.

Men have not been the gender which has overwhelmingly succeeded over the course of human history for nothing. Deal with reality.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

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]

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.