I am a woman who works in finance.
When I originally studied finance I only went into it because I liked playing games with numbers and through some courses I had taken I recognized that there was a way to make money by solving the same math problems for other people. I was not aware of the ever-present and violent sexism within finance that I had come to realize after working in the industry.
Sexism was not thoroughly explained to me when I was young and thus when it had been occurring to me I was confused by it but shrugged it off as I was not educated on the area. When I had started to become more and more aware of the sexist things that people had been saying to me, or the opportunities that I had missed out on due to my sex, the nuances of the way society treats me, the way men speak to me, the way men view me, I realized that sexism had shaped the entirety of my life and every other woman's life and in turn, every man's life.
I innocently headed into finance to play my number games and I was met with egotistical men that put women on their pamphlets to be viewed as progressive to attract women to their firms just to talk down to them (feeding their egos further) and only provide lesser opportunities for them (so they can keep their high-paying deals to feed their egos further).
Recently I was a part of an investment fund as the only female on the team alongside 30 men. Naturally, the men told me I was in charge of attracting more females to the team to be more outwardly progressive and for a few months I ran events to advertise the fund to young females and talk about the benefits of being on the fund and the team was happy with my work. Then, I felt a pit in my stomach. A feeling of guilt. I had just encouraged many young women to join a team who talks over me, puts a lesser value to my opinion, and makes assumptions about my intelligence before I open my mouth. Their fate would certainly be the same if they decided to heed my advice. Did I just encourage these young women to join something that they will face copious amounts of sexism in?
It is no secret that women cannot hide from sexism no matter the scenario, however there are professions that are more heavily concentrated by females and I would imagine that their dealings with sexism are more minimal. This made me think about how ethical it is to encourage women to join adversity. I would much rather look at a younger version of myself and encourage her to join something she was passionate about that she would be treated equally in. No one wants to sign up for adversity.
Thus I have decided to no longer hide the dealings of sexism that I have endured when speaking to women about my career or the funds that I have been a part of. This may not make them eager to follow my path or join the groups that I am a part of however it is the only way I can feel that I have not lied to other women about the reality of sexism in finance. Despite what their marketing may advertise, no firm has or ever will be able to create a bubble to keep sexism out.
The experiences I have had made me question, why should I continue in finance, why not find an area that is not filled with sexism? The first I would be remiss to not recognize, things are improving. There are many things that I have not had to deal with that women in the past have fought for and succeeded. I am eternally grateful for these women. The second being future-looking, I want to make things easier for the young women to come who just like me, liked playing math games or even those who just want to make money. Also, for the women of colour who have even more adversity beyond sexism. Those are my only reasons to keep going and to keep being honest.
I am also a woman who works in finance, with over 10 years in asset management and wealth management in the UK, and have had a significantly more positive experience than you. I don’t think I’ve ever run into overt sexism, to the extent that your question reminds me of Scott Alexander on different worlds. Before you decide not to continue in finance, I suggest looking to see if you can find a different employer with a less toxic culture. They do exist. If you’ve run into the same problems at multiple employers, I see two possibilities that you can actually do something about. (You might just be unlucky, but I can’t advise on how to fix that.)
1) You’re in a specific niche with a more toxic culture than average (the trading floors of investment banking being the paradigm example). In which case you may want to move to a related but different job or category of employer.
2) Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s worth considering the possibility that there is some aspect of your behaviour that is exacerbating the problem. For example, having had previous bad experiences, do you assume that any new man you meet will be sexist towards you, and therefore subconsciously signal hostility to men before you’ve even had a chance to get to know each other. I know this suggestion could be interpreted as victim blaming, but please take it in the spirit it’s meant: there is some possibility you’re stuck in a bad feedback loop and it’s worth checking that before doing anything drastic like quitting your career.
I am happy to hear that your experiences with sexism have been less extreme as to mine.
I have no intention to not continue my journey in finance, it would be pretty hard to convince me to leave especially because I know that I have the ability to make things better for other women.
I have considered many times that there is something that I am doing to cause the problem however some concrete facts of sexism have been shown to me that there is nothing beyond my gender have caused. There are countless other experiences of women that can corroborate my experiences as well.
In fact, at the beginning of my career I doubted I would experience sexism as I thought as a North American, I would not see such experiences. I am quite positive no confirmation bias was used. In fact, I have had a man point out to me that another colleague of mine was being sexist towards me. I would love to believe that sexism does not exist and that there is any easy fix of a change to my behaviour.
As for your comment about specific niches, should the niches of finance not be a place for women as well?
I would like to reiterate that I have no intention of leaving my career, my only intention of writing this post was to state why I would no longer sugarcoat my experiences (despite what my firm may wish) to women entering the industry.
I had just encouraged many young women to join a team who talks over me, puts a lesser value to my opinion, and makes assumptions about my intelligence before I open my mouth. Their fate would certainly be the same if they decided to heed my advice.
Not completely the same, because if they ended up in your team, presumably you wouldn't do this to them, and they wouldn't to each other. Sometimes, just one person who respects you, can make a big difference.
But I agree that telling them that everything is okay would still be lying.
and they wouldn't to each other
Unfortunately that's generally not true in my experience. I've seen women in stressful, sexist workplaces lash out at other women, and generally be very hostile towards each other. It's just human nature--you see the same thing in children who have been scolded and then lash out on their younger sibling in response. It's why bullies in school often come from troubled home environments. As they say in the military: "shit rolls downhill."
You have to create and nurture a supportive, cooperative environment to overcome that natural behavior. It is very much not the default.
I agree that increased saturation of women on the team would overall benefit the women on the team however as the other replier mention, women are often pit against each other as there is an unsaid sense of competition as we know that we will be given less opportunities than the men.
Female finance lawyer here. My field skews male, especially in the higher echelons/partnership level.
Few people willingly sign up to be on the vanguard, agreed. And while I don't particularly want to be on the vanguard, given that I've been at this a while and been through some things, I may as well use that experience for collective good. I mentor the hell out of younger attorneys. Like you, I've stopped sugarcoating everything. I think there's good to be done in giving other people more complete information than they would have otherwise.
I'm sorry you've had to go through this. I wish it was otherwise.
It sucks you had those experiences, and you did not deserve them.
I thought this was interesting:
Despite what their marketing may advertise, no firm has or ever will be able to create a bubble to keep sexism out.
The short version of my reaction is this: but what if a firm was at least able to start without it?
A slightly longer version: sexism and every other kind of bigotry seem very status-centric. Could we limit it inside companies using the same methods we might try against useless status games in general? Like what if we built a Full Alternative Stack with attention to this problem? I bet there's a strong correlation between places that are maze-y and places with a prejudice problem.
The concept interests me greatly, I hope to see more start ups look into this mentality as I believe all personnel would benefit from it
however there are professions that are more heavily concentrated by females and I would imagine that their dealings with sexism are more minimal.
Would it help at all to promote information about which finance firms are closest to having gender parity (cut through their PR), so that women who would strongly prefer not to be an extreme minority know which firms to give preference to, and apply to first?
This is an interesting topic that I believe further and impartial ESG analysis would be of great use
I notice that pay transparency seems to be a key subproblem here. If we just knew how salary was distributed in these organizations, then we preeety much know how power is distributed. It would simplify the auditing pretty drastically.
There are pros and cons to pay transparency (I'm mostly pro, but I do fear that envy is a bigger problem in the US than in Scandanavian countries where transparency is working well). But I'm not sure that's the key subproblem.
I'd expect it's cultural devaluation of women that's the key subproblem. Even where women aren't a small minority, there's an amazing double-standard about appearance, presentation, and discussion style throughout most US and UK (and I presume elsewhere, but I know less about that) businesses.
there are so many benefits to pay transparency beyond this issue as well however it is heavily stigmatized (at least in more traditional companies).
Every industry has downsides. Some industries have much larger downsides for some kinds of people. If you personally think the tradeoffs are such that overall you prefer to stay in finance, then by analogy perhaps others who are like you would as well.
Deontology and virtue ethical frameworks have lots of resources for explaining why one shouldn't lie, but from a purely (naively) consequentialist perspective, it would be wrong to encourage people to enter your industry despite its problems only if compared to their next best alternative it would leave them worse off overall. Does it?