What Gender Bias Looks Like

Gender bias can be subtle and difficult to understand. At the beginning of my women’s leadership programs, many women cannot see it and eventually discover that it is so much a part of their daily lives, they have become numb to it. The following are some recently published examples of gender bias from the media, finance and biopharma, economics, and Wall Street that silence women’s voices and create barriers to women’s participation in shaping our world. News Media: Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times write that women are underrepresented in news coverage by a ratio of three-to-one. Being quoted or cited in news articles helps determine who is considered to be an authority on a topic. Taub and Fisher note that the social machinery that equates expertise with maleness is complex and creates a vicious cycle that shuts women out. For example, news organizations use online searches to find experts to quote or cite. Because women are underrepresented in news coverage, their names do not come up as often in searches and they continue to be excluded. Finance and Biopharma: Rebecca Robbins and Meghana Keshavan of STAT share an example of gender bias at a large annual healthcare conference sponsored by J.P. Morgan: men represented 94 percent of the 540 people making high-profile presentations to biotech executives and investors. Let’s be clear—these events are where careers are made and enhanced by the opportunity for visibility. And women are not visible. This lack of representation of women on panels and in speaking slots at professional conferences is a trend that has been recently reported in several fields. Economics: Justin Wolfers of the New York Times writes about the scarcity of women and women’s voices in the field of economics and the implications for all of us. He notes that “because economics has an outsized influence on public policy . . . [and] many debates are likely to be dominated by men for years to come,” there are so few women in economics. Wolfers cites surveys that show stark differences in opinion between women and men economists: women economists, by large margins, favor policies that promote income equality, big government and government regulation, mandatory employer-provided health insurance, and labor policies that promote environmental quality over economic growth. Women economists tend to focus on different topics than men, and as Wolfers writes, “If there were more female economists, more attention would surely be paid to these issues.” The number of women studying economics has stalled, and women are a minority in every level of training and rank in economics. Wolfers notes that a host of careful studies has identified barriers that discourage and drive women out of the field, such as being held to a higher standard for publishing or not being given tenure credit for publishing with men, while men get credit for publishing with women. Jim Tankersley and Noam Scheiber of the New York Times, also writing about women in economics, share new research on patterns of gender discrimination in the field. One study on the most popular introductory economics textbooks found that the textbooks refer to men four times more than to women and that 90 percent of the economists cited in the texts are men. This new research also notes that the bias against African American women in economics is especially pronounced—only fifty-two black women earned doctorates in the field between 2006 and 2015. Black women are incredibly invisible. Wall Street: A new lawsuit against the investment firm run by Steven A. Cohen, Point72, is reported by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times. The woman bringing the suit explains, “The company is a testosterone-fueled ‘boys club’ in which men comment on women’s bodies, belittle their abilities, exclude women from meetings, and pay them less than male peers.” Further evidence of gender bias is offered: women are fewer than 3 percent of managing directors and, of the 125 portfolio managers, only one is a woman. When women’s voices and perspectives are missing from the classroom, research, business, and government, we all lose. Let’s keep the pressure on for change.   Photo courtesy of businessforward (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Taking a Stand for Women on Boards: The Fearless Girl and the Bull

Could a bold and creative act by the Boston-based State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) finally bring gender equity to corporate boards in the United States? When senior female executives at SSGA decided to commission the statue “The Fearless Girl,” their goal was to bring visibility to the lack of women on boards. By placing the statue in front of New York City’s iconic Bull of Wall Street in during the middle of the night prior to International Women’s Day on March 9, 2017, they hoped to spotlight this issue. Rachael Levy, writing for Business Insider, explains that the statue is part of a new campaign by SSGA to pressure companies to add more women to their boards. Levy reports that—as the third largest asset manager in the world handling $2.5 trillion in funds—SSGA wields a lot of clout and has vowed to vote against boards of companies “that fail to take steps to increase the number of women.” The SSGA executives note that, despite much industry discussion about this issue for many years, little has changed. Why does gender diversity matter? They add that gender diversity improves company performance, and gender diversity increases shareholder value. In other words, gender diversity is good for business. Associated Press reporter  Stan Choe writes that while woman have been gaining board seats, the progress is very slow. Women in the United States held 15 percent of board seats in 2015, up from 14 percent in 2014. Choe notes that, at this rate, it will take until 2055 to gain parity. He also notes that many companies have no women at all on their boards, and only 4 percent of CEOs are women. Other countries have a better record, with women holding 24 percent of board seats in Europe because of government pressure and targets. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe notes that the placement of the Fearless Girl statue raises some important questions:

  • Why haven’t women been on equal footing?
  • Why shouldn’t they be?
  • Why does the Wall Street Bull, a decidedly masculine symbol, represent America’s economic strength?
Leung explains that for the SSGA executives, who commissioned the statue from artist Kristen Visbol, the little girl represents hope for the future and is a symbol of change. The plaque at her feet reads, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” I love this symbol of fearlessness. What are your thoughts and reactions?   Photo by vivalapenler. istock standard license]]>

Why There Are So Few Senior Women on Wall Street

Why are there so few women in senior management in the banking and investment industry, also known as Wall Street? In spite of a plethora of diversity committees, women’s leadership programs and retreats, and inclusion training in Wall Street firms for at least the last two decades, the representation of women in senior positions has not changed much. A major investment bank has never had a female CEO, and only 2 percent of hedge fund managers are women. Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader, explains in an article in the New York Times that the hypermasculine culture of Wall Street firms remain unchanged because “men rarely do or say anything” to challenge the overt and covert sexism all around them. The pressure to conform and fit in to be promoted is reinforced from day one. The overt sexism that women experience, such as pressure to sleep with bosses, retribution when they don’t, and loss of opportunity after taking maternity leave, is one type of sexism that creates barriers for women, but it is covert sexism that Polk is most concerned with in his article. He explains that “most of the sexism on Wall Street occurs when women aren’t in the room.” He calls this “bro talk,” where men casually talk about women as sex objects and body parts as a way of bonding with each other. Polk reflects on his own experiences in high school, in college, and as a bond trader on Wall Street where he heard men who were role models—fathers, coaches and bosses—denigrate women. He notes that while he felt uncomfortable hearing and participating in this type of talk, he never said so because “it feels really good to be in the in-crowd.” Protesting would have been “embarrassing and emasculating” and, he admits, bad for his career. Now the father of a daughter, Polk regrets his silence and explains, “‘Bro talk’ produces a force field of disrespect and exclusion that makes it incredibly difficult for women to ascend the Wall Street ladder. When you create a culture where women are casually torn apart in conversation, how can you ever stomach promoting them or working for them?” He urges men to be allies—to finally bring about change in the Wall Street culture and other organizational cultures they are in, men must insist that women be spoken about with respect. He makes the point that a relationship exists between “bro talk” and the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls. Polk states, “When we dehumanize people in conversation, we give permission for them to be degraded in other ways as well. . . . Our silence condones this language.” In another article describing the new movie Equity about female executives on Wall Street, author Melena Ryzik interviewed women who are currently investment bankers who agree that the culture of hypermasculinity still exists. They detail a number of sexist assumptions and double binds that create barriers for women:

  • The assumption that women will leave to marry or have children so there is no reason to promote them.
  • The demand that women have to continually prove themselves before they get promoted, while men are given a chance to prove themselves after promotion.
  • The conflict between being too tough or too pliant and being called overbearing when expressing an opinion.
Barbara Byrne, an investment banker at Barclays and a producer of the film, asks, “When do we get our fair share, when do we get a seat at the table?” It will take both women and men to change the culture of sexism. Let’s hope that many men heed Polk’s call for an end to their silence. Are you a man, or do you know a man, who speaks out when other men are demeaning women behind closed doors? We need men to stop participating in “bro talk” and challenge other men to stop, too. It will help us all to hear your success stories.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Helpsg.  ]]>

Revealing Root Causes: What Keeps the Glass Ceiling in Place in the Financial Sector?

So many talented women entrepreneurs with great technology business ideas cannot raise the capital needed to start their businesses from Silicon Valley investors. Likewise, many women in Wall Street firms cannot make partner, or otherwise advance, no matter how well they perform. Even with lots of publicity, such as the recent gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, programs put in place to help women advance, diversity programs on unconscious bias, and millions of dollars spent to settle class-action gender discrimination cases, not much has changed on Wall Street for women. What keeps the glass ceiling in place? New research reveals some root causes that could open pathways to change.

Silicon Valley Venture Capital Firms

Let’s be clear. Only 1 percent of the ideas pitched to venture capital firms get funded. The problem is those that get funded are overwhelmingly pitched by white men. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times notes that of the people who get investment funding to start new businesses, 1 percent are black, 8 percent are women, and 12 percent are Asian, according to data from CB Insights. Here are some of the underlying structural causes of the problem:
  • Men make up 94 percent of partners at venture capital firms, and the business is insular. Miller notes that most investors accept pitches only from entrepreneurs who come through an introduction via their personal networks.
  • Venture firms with female partners are three times more likely to invest in a company with a female chief executive—but a Babson College study found that just 6 percent of partners at venture capital firms are women.
  • Miller cites a 2014 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that investors prefer pitches by men (68 percent), particularly attractive men, to those by women (32 percent), even when the content of the pitch is exactly the same.

Wall Street

Maureen Sherry, reflecting back on her career as a managing director at Bear Stearns, looks at the current statistics for women at Wall Street investment banks and notes that very little has changed, despite hundreds of millions of dollars paid out to settle gender discrimination suits—most recently $46 million paid out by Morgan Stanley and $39 million by Bank of America. She cites a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek survey that tracked MBA graduates from 2007–2009, which found the following:
  • While women received almost the same pay upon graduating, six to eight years later their pay averaged 20 percent less than the pay of their male classmates.
  • Female graduates of Columbia Business School, who went to work primarily for Wall Street financial institutions, earned 40 percent less than their male colleagues.
Sherry reveals a very interesting root cause for the Wall Street glass ceiling:
  • New employees are required to sign a U4 arbitration agreement “that binds a worker to settle any job dispute with her employer in-house,” usually with arbitrators chosen because they are friendly to the bank. Not surprisingly, roughly two out of three cases are decided in Wall Street’s favor.
  • When settlements are awarded, the employee must sign a nondisclosure agreement, and the stories and patterns of discrimination remain hidden from the public.


Maureen Sherry states unequivocally that mandatory arbitration needs to be banned so that action, in the form of laws, regulations, and public pressure, can be taken to change the culture of Wall Street. As long as the stories and patterns stay hidden, and the deep-pocketed banks barely notice the settlement payouts, there is no incentive to change. As for venture capital firms, we must keep the spotlight on their insular and discriminatory practices and assert public pressure for them to be more inclusive. Bringing these root causes into the open will help us all know what to look for and how to bring pressure for change.   Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>