On the “being a woman in finance” meme

I have worked at a few finance shops since I graduated in a down market in 2002.  I started out as a receptionist at an insurance underwriting firm and after a year or so was given the option of becoming the office manager or an underwriter.  I chose the latter, which was certainly of more interest to me than ordering supplies and overseeing admins, though the versatility and earning power of underwriters is debatable when compared to that of office managers.  A few years later, when I gave notice at my third job, my highest ranking boss was upset not because I was leaving but because he was planning on leaving soon as well and wanted to take me with him to be his office manager.

So I was for the second time in the span of a few years offered a well-paying traditionally female role and instead swallowed a big paycut to take a position as a research analyst at an asset management firm.  I am now a trader, sitting on an unusual desk with more female than males.  The firm overall, however, is fairly representative of finance where most of the females are admins/office managers or work in accounting while males populate the analyst and executive roles.  Another male-dominated industry is food, where most successful head chefs/chef owners are males, while females usually fill the hostess and waitress roles, with some bartending and sous-chef or prep cooking roles.  There are also industries dominated by females, like publishing and fashion.  But writing about those industries does not evoke the same schadenfreude in the general public as does the deplorable gender gap in business and finance.  So the meme goes on.

The entire problem with this piece might be boiled down to first sentence of the 3rd paragraph:

In the go-go 1990s, I worked at Goldman Sachs. It was my second job out of college, one where I hoped to leverage my honors economics degree from Brown and make enough money to support my career as an aspiring writer.

1. “go-go 1990s”…and this was written 20 years later so how is it still relevant?  Couldn’t the author try to make a point as to how things have changed/remained the same from making a small effort into research?

2. “honors economics degree from Brown” — I think the writer is banking on readers recognizing Brown, the brand of an Ivy, but not knowing that Brown doesn’t have a particularly noteworthy undergraduate economics program to rival those of non-Ivies like U. Chicago or MIT.

3.  “aspiring writer” — maybe shouldn’t have quit her day job.

I, too, have attended a company-sponsored outing to a strip club [The Penthouse Executive Club, thank you very much], where one of my female co-workers bought me a lap dance.  However, I was not pressured into going, and attended and left of my own volition.  This was not like the mandatory annual golf outings at my first job at an insurance underwriting firm.  Both strip clubs and golf go hand-in-hand with finance, and for me, at least, only the fun one was optional.

What woman, really, could sit in her power suit and convincingly enjoy a pair of breasts swinging in the face while her male colleagues and clients ogle g-strings?

Me, apparently, because I don’t take any of it seriously.  And yes, I was wearing a pantsuit, which did make me feel a bit ridiculous, but I don’t take myself too seriously, either.

Executive assistants in finance can earn a solid six figures [salary, bonus, gifts] because of what they have to put up with.  I knew this when I walked away from that career and I am not bitter about it.  I have friends who have been working as executive assistants for years and make enough money to pay off their mortgages and retire by 40, and I would not trade with them if the opportunity arose.  In most workplaces, there exists some system of politics or “the game” or whatever you want to call it.  You can play or you can choose not to play, but that’s your choice.  The author sounds like she thought [and still thinks] herself too good to play, but begrudges those that played and won.

More reading:

http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-financial-services

http://www.forbes.com/sites/sashagalbraith/2011/03/18/financial-services-the-industry-women-love-to-hate/

http://www.americanbanker.com/women-in-banking/ http://www.wibf.org.uk/about/us

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