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Wall Street Says Women Worth Less as Disparity Over Pay Widens

Dawn Kopecki

Nancy Davis, a rising star at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., left in January 2008 after an eight-year run betting the firm’s money on derivatives to become a portfolio manager at Highbridge Capital Management LLC. She lost that job 10 months later when the hedge fund cut back in the recession.

For women in the financial-services industry like Davis, who’s still unemployed, the last few years haven’t been kind. More than five times as many women as men lost their jobs in the three years after July 2007, and pay for full-time managers compared with their male counterparts worsened between 2000 and 2007, according to U.S. government data.

Women managers in finance, a group that includes bank tellers as well as executives, earned 63.9 cents for every dollar of income men earned in 2000, based on median salaries, according to Government Accountability Office statistics analyzed by Bloomberg. In 2007, the last year for which data are available, the figure was 58.8 cents. The 41-cent gap was the biggest in any of 13 industries surveyed by the GAO, and only two others had a widening disparity.

“When you have an industry dominated by men like finance, and compensation going through the roof, it’s not surprising that it increases the gender disparity between men and women,” said Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco who has written on gender and the workplace. “The sky’s the limit for men who hit a home run, but women can’t get to first base.”

Goldman Sachs Lawsuit

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Last month New York-based Goldman Sachs was sued by three former female employees who say they faced discrimination in pay and fewer opportunities for promotion than men at the firm. One of the women claimed she had been pinned against a wall and groped by a male colleague after a 1997 outing that included a stop at Scores, a Manhattan topless bar.

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 ‘Culture Hasn’t Changed’

“Despite their sustained participation and economic influence, women have experienced a shockingly slow rate of progress advancing into business leadership, regardless of industry,” Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive officer of Catalyst, a New York organization that promotes workplace diversity, told lawmakers at a Sept. 28 hearing in Washington.

It’s harder for women on Wall Street where trading floors can create a hostile environment, said Nina Godiwalla, a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley and author of “Suits: A Woman on Wall Street,” which will be published by Atlas & Co. in February.

“Based on the women I’ve talked to, the culture hasn’t changed,” Godiwalla said. Women are routinely subjected to crude jokes and excluded from outings, she said. “Even if it doesn’t happen to you, you see it around all the time, and it’s just a reminder that you’re not part of the team,” she said.

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Job Losses

The number of women in finance, banking and insurance in the U.S. fell by 537,000 between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of this year, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s 12.5 percent of women in those industries compared with 3.6 percent of jobs held by males cut in the same period, according to the data. Across all industries, the female workforce decreased by about 2.6 percent, or 1.7 million jobs, in the three-year period, the data shows. 

Women who get a foot in the door on Wall Street often find themselves assigned to less prestigious trading desks and divisions with smaller bonus pools, said Kelly Dermody, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP in San Francisco who’s representing the women suing Goldman Sachs along with Outten & Golden LLP. The two law firms have gender- discrimination cases pending against Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch unit, among other firms, Dermody said.

“Women are fighting the same old battles, just in a new environment higher up the chain,” she said. “These cases keep coming and coming. Wall Street isn’t learning the lessons.”

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, is currently in litigation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a gender-discrimination case.

JPMorgan, Citigroup

One of the complaints in the Goldman Sachs case is that the proportion of female managers shrinks at higher levels. Women constituted 29 percent of the firm’s vice presidents, 17 percent of managing directors and 14 percent of partners in 2009, according to the complaint. Four of 30 members of the management committee and one of nine executive officers were women.

JPMorgan has three women on its 16-person operating committee, including Erdoes, Heidi Miller, president of international operations, and Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew. Morgan Stanley has just one woman, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat, among its top dozen executives. Citigroup Inc. CEO Vikram Pandit doesn’t have any women on his executive committee, which consists of 19 men, including himself.

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Unconscious Discrimination

“In the old days, the problem was conscious, explicit discrimination -- the doors were literally closed and we had to put our heads against them and pound them in,” said Susan Estrich, a professor of gender-discrimination law at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of “Sex and Power.”

Discrimination today is largely unconscious, and people in power don’t even realize they’re doing it, she said.

“People who are doing the judging unconsciously prefer people they’re comfortable with, people they know, people who look like them, people whose experience they recognize,” Estrich said.

Sharon Meers, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs who left the firm four years ago to write “Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All (Random House, 2009),” describes studies in her book that show both men and women are more apt to choose male job candidates over females, even if their credentials are identical.

“The air we breathe is filled with assumptions about men and women that are hard to shake,” Meers said. “Instantaneously and subconsciously, we end up prioritizing men over women in a way that doesn’t make any sense.”

Testosterone’s Role

That’s especially true on Wall Street trading floors, said Williams, the Hastings law professor, who has studied traders.

“The gender bias faced by female traders is open, dramatic and pervasive compared with other professionals,” she said. “It’s all about masculine signaling -- mine’s bigger than yours. But in this case, it’s measured by salary and fueled by risk.”

That may have something to do with testosterone, according to John Coates, a former derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank AG and now a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge. Coates left the bank to study the correlation between hormones and trading after noticing that male traders exhibited manic behavior during bull markets.

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Competition, Risk-Taking 

Hormones alone don’t explain the differences between males and females on Wall Street, said Anna Dreber, a researcher at the Institute for Financial Research in Stockholm who’s studying competition and risk-taking among men and women. She said she has found that girls can be as competitive as boys, depending on the environment.

“Even if you have some specific version of a gene that makes it more likely to take a risk, your social environment can still affect whether that gene is expressed or not,” Dreber said. “I would expect a fairly big chunk of the variation of behavior in individuals is some sort of interplay between biological and social variables.”

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Walking a Tightrope

Bias against women in the workplace today is more subtle than in the past, she said. Women have to walk a tightrope in the office between being too feminine and not being taken seriously or being too masculine and viewed as a “bitch” with a personality problem, she said. They also have to keep proving their competency, she said.

“There are dramatic gender pressures on both men and women who are traders that systematically disadvantage women, regardless of which hormone is surging when,” Williams said. “The gender pressures on men are to be the biggest cowboy with the biggest gun who shoots the fastest. It’s all about who demonstrates manliness the best.”

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