Executive Women on Wall Street: Oh Sisters Where Art Thou

In reading Steven M. Davidoff’s article entitled “Why So Few Women Reach the Executive Rank” (http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/why-so-few-women-reach-the-executive-rank), I was not surprised when he cited the 3 main reasons for the dearth of women in the upper echelons of many an esteemed financial institution.

At first it may seem like grim reading but I cannot help but feel that the tide is turning and the once male dominated field of high finance will have to be more accommodating in the very near future. Move over, fellas.

Main excerpt below:

“The first explanation is simple sex discrimination. Women entering the work force are met with overt hostility. In some cases, benevolent attitudes have been found to be patronizing and can do as much harm as outright discrimination.

More generally, hostility is not required for discrimination to exist. In other words, stereotypes can end up creating different or lower expectations for women in the absence of hostility. And another strand of literature argues that there is not hostility toward women so much as a preference for men.

Evidence for each of these explanations can be found in the repeated studies that have concluded that women on Wall Street and in corporate America are paid less than men for similar work.

The second explanation is more complex, and states that the current male-driven culture does not allow women to succeed. Women’s values and approaches are different, and when entering the work force women find that the male culture is not to their taste or are driven off. Those women who do succeed adapt to the male culture. In other words, women need to become like men to become corporate executives.

Another issue at the forefront involves child care. In large part, women still effectively function as the primary caretakers of their children, and many commentators have described the struggle for “work-life balance.” This is true because the need to care for children is often greatest when women are in their 30s and 40s, a period that is the prime time of their careers.

Demographic changes, however, may help change the equation. The median age of a chief executive of an S.& P. 500 company is 55, while the average age of a director is 62. As more women enter the work force they will gradually come to parity and perhaps even take over.

It is here where we arrive at the thesis put forth by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. In her new book, “Lean In,” she seems to side with the explanation that a male-driven culture is at the root of the problem. Ms. Sandberg urges women to lean in and become as assertive as men in pushing forward their careers.

Her chief foil these days is Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor at Princeton who left a high-powered post in the State Department. Professor Slaughter’s main concerns are the notion that the needs of women, child care and time with children are not being accommodated by the workplace.

Ms. Sandberg and Professor Slaughter are not the only ones examining the issue of women leaders. Other authors and commentators have joined the debate with books like “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” and “The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?”

But the question boils down to how to address this imbalance in the number of women in leadership positions in corporate America and on Wall Street. Do we address overt discrimination with affirmative action or quotas as Europe has? Or is the answer to open space for women to spend time with their children and have career breaks? Or do women really have to become like men to succeed? And, again, the response differs, depending on what you see as the cause of the problem.

For advocates of sex equality, there is reason for optimism. The rising numbers of women in the workplace will inevitably continue to chip away at the disadvantages that women face. And if women really do en masse change cultures and bring separate characteristics to bear, it could transform the way that Wall Street does business.

But it is clear that given today’s low numbers, Wall Street has its work cut out for it.”

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