Women desert Wall Street

By Felix Salmon
September 20, 2010

Chart of the day comes from Kyle Stock:


This is very bad indeed: women are leaving the financial-services industry even as men are joining it; and the trend is most pronounced among the youngest cohorts of the population, who will be running the industry in the future.

The losses are steepest for the youngest women, including those just out of college. The number of women entering finance-industry jobs at age 20 to 24 fell 21.8% over the past decade. For jobs across all industries, the overall number of women in the work force was unchanged over the same period.

This is not — or not only — a crisis phenomenon: the number of women on Wall Street was falling even from 2001 to 2006.

So what’s going on? Stock wheels out a couple of theories:

Across the economy, computers have replaced junior, back-office workers, jobs that were largely filled by women…

Given recent volatile markets and much scrutiny on compensation, there are fewer incentives to stay in the business for those women who have already chosen finance-industry careers, said Grace Tsiang, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.

Ms. Tsiang theorized that these women are having and raising children rather than staying on the job.

“Women have this higher alternative value of how to spend their time,” Ms. Tsiang said. “They’re always perched on this edge, and if the value of staying in a high-pressure job goes down just a bit, then that might make a big difference in the number that jump.”

I don’t find either of these theories particularly convincing. For one thing, have Wall Street back offices really thinned out since 2000? And were they particularly female-dominated back then?

And as for the idea that women would rather quit to have babies rather than cope with volatility, frankly it’s downright offensive. And doesn’t square with those job losses between 2001 and 2006, when volatility was declining and compensation was rising.

I’m also unimpressed at the part of Stock’s article which veers into anecdote. He manages to find two women who left Wall Street; one of them started a firm called ChickRx, and the other founded a company “which makes protective covers for high-heel shoes.”

The most depressing part of Stock’s story, however, is probably the reaction of the Wall Street boy’s club:

Wall Street isn’t keen to talk about these gender shifts. A number of firms, including J.P. Morgan Chase and Lazard Ltd., declined to answer questions for this article, and some of those that responded declined to detail the male-to-female ratios of their staffs.

Unless you’re open about your gender-balance problems, you’re never going to fix them. And we’ll end up further away than ever from a world where more than one in five executives in the financial-services industry is a woman.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

“For one thing, have Wall Street back offices really thinned out since 2000? And were they particularly female-dominated back then?”

Some and Absolutely Not, respectively. But it was (and probably still is) an area in which women can rise to a leadership position.

Posted by klhoughton | Report as abusive

Why is it important to have gender balance in the financial “services” “industry”?

Is there some will imposed by God that we are trying to fulfill?

Let them leave.

Posted by dkoepke | Report as abusive

Agreed, we need gender balance.

That way, we can have morons destroy the economy every month or so.

Posted by EGR55 | Report as abusive

Young women these days are more educated, more careful, and more considerate of others than young men. They probably aren’t any more intelligent, but they frequently use that intelligence more effectively.

So why do we want to waste this talent on Wall Street? Why not put them to work in industries that actually PRODUCE something?

Not that this is our decision to make in any case. People will seek careers that fit their personal goals. If women are fleeing Wall Street, that is an indictment of the culture there but not necessarily a shift we ought to resist.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Why do people not differentiate between equal opportunity and equal numbers? Women have every opportunity to gain entry and succeed in financial services but choose not to… so why the hoopla? It’s a cutthroat and shitty business and I’m glad women have the good sense to not want to be in it – I’d get out if I knew how to do anything else that pays half as well.

Posted by CDN_finance | Report as abusive

@EGR55: There is data that has shown that financial organizations around the world where managment had a good balance of women did not take the same kinds of risks that have tanked the world economy. I suggest you find data to back up your sexist comments.

Posted by BB1978 | Report as abusive

“For one thing, have Wall Street back offices really thinned out since 2000? And were they particularly female-dominated back then?”

Don’t think i-bank middle/back office, think brokerage and retail banking (etc). Alot of those positions were filled by (relatively) un-educated clerks manually doing all sorts of processes that are now being largely automated. Think, at some banks/brokers, if you want a check sent out from your account, your banker/broker may have to call someone else to do it, but that person doesn’t actually do it, they just input a request for a clerk to do it. There’s lots of fat to cut with automation and computerization, and that trend will continue.

Also, do we demand gender equality in industries that are largely composed of females, like P.R? I have lady friends that constantly complain about how much it sucks working in an office with all women, but there’s no concerted effort industry (or even firm) wide to bring more men into the workplace. Why is it different in Finance (“studies” about having women in the mix notwithstanding)?

Posted by Anal_yst | Report as abusive

Males or Females does it matter ? Do we really need WallStreet this Big. NYSE is fine for New business to get capital.. Why we need these “Investment Banks” giant who do not know what they are doing… If womens are leaving yes they are Smart..

Posted by Amaresh_Gangal | Report as abusive

Has anyone mentioned the ultimate driving force could very well be intuition!

Posted by moondogdavis | Report as abusive

I would suggest that a review of gender pay parity be taken up. The gender gap in pay on Wall Street has not been addressed at all. If women are leaving Wall Street in such high numbers, looking at ALL of the numbers, including pay parity would probably reveal some interesting numbers. If a woman can afford a nanny, a day care center and paying for other various child-related costs, at the rate charged in NYC and the surrounding areas, she might not have to choose between family and Wall Street. And while we’re at it, how about rate of compensation such as bonuses?

Posted by Paine21 | Report as abusive

Just another male bashing article. This “analysis” fits right in with American thinking over the past 50 years or so. Why not abort half the male babies? That ought to reduce the excessive number of insensitive, stupid, blundering dolts, no?

The road to Paradise.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive


How about YOU back up your claim that in firms where there was a “good balance” of women, there were fewer failures. While you’re at it, define “good balance” in an objective manner. proportional to the population? Proportional to the population of college-educated? Proportional to the population of finance majors with a college education? Proportional to the population of finance majors who work instead of stay at home?

The idea that there even exists rationale for a “good balance” is beyond any intelligent or serious argument.

It’s hilarious to me that an obvious male-basher (see “morons (overwhelmingly men)” comment) would attempt to indict somebody for “sexism.” You’re working on the idea (and attempting to defend it with made up claims of data) that women would make better decisions than men….

but it’s everybody else that’s sexist… yeah, ok.

Posted by pnishr | Report as abusive

Most women clever enough to get get there are too clever to stay there very long. Look for them in private, free-lance or trophy cases ..

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive

Hmmm, interesting comments here, Felix.

I don’t think the issue is the relative proportion of sexes employed in financial services, and whether that’s good or bad. The relevant question is why there are proportionally fewer females in the field over the last decade, especially in younger age brackets. That says that one or (more likely) two things have happened – more women have left, and fewer women, especially in the entry level, have arrived, relative to men. It’s a trend that probably doesn’t well lend itself to anecdotal explanation. The industry should be at least curious, and possibly concerned, as the underlying reasons may in fact not be very good ones.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

Why is it bad that women are leaving financial industry jobs? Must everything is this whacky country be 50/50? I’m sure we will do some ridiculous thing like pay women more to even the playing field. Totally ridiculous article! Totally ridiculous point! What of garbage collection? I bet there are few women doing that. Maybe we should try to get more and make that 50/50.

Posted by RufusDaddy | Report as abusive


Link 1: published in 2006 (pre-crisis, and therefor says nothing of the companies success or failure in crisis)
Link 2: published in 2004 (same thing)
Link 3: dead
Link 4: Study covering period 1996-2000, in all fortune 500 companies (not finance) (again, says nothing of abilities as leaders of finance or results in current economy )
Link 5: Says nothing of the abilities of women as compared to men, only gauges the success of women in industry vs. other women; ranking them.

Seriously? From those, you make the claim “There is data that has shown that financial organizations around the world where managment had a good balance of women did not take the same kinds of risks that have tanked the world economy”

You’re not a very good liar.

Nobody said women can’t be good leaders. In fact, my best friend is quite successful in finance (corporate lending)… But your claim that they’re better leaders is unfounded. Even when you provide “evidence” to that fact, it’s found to be bogus. It’s sad that one’s insecurity in his/her abilities as an individual lead them to resort to this type of nonsense.

Most major companies are headed by men. Statistically it was far more likely than not that companies being bailed out would be headed by men. Learn some basic statistics.

That’s like me saying “most people that fall over while wearing heels are women…” Well DUH, most people that wear heels are women.


What else do you have? Any actual “data” to support your false claims about a “good balance” (which you’ve yet to define) in Finance companies?

Posted by pnishr | Report as abusive

Let’s also remember that the TARP money was PUSHED onto the top national banks, not asked for by them. If you took the time to pay attention to the Fed’s FOIA release regarding that, you’d see that it was part of the agenda of the Treasury (under Paulson at the time) and the Fed (Bernanke and Geithner) to allow the government to absorb much of their toxic assets. The Banks took the money because they were told to accept the money. Otherwise relatively healthy financial institutions were strong-armed into taking it.

Posted by pnishr | Report as abusive

In some cases (e.g. Wells Fargo) the healthy banks needed additional capital so that they could safely absorb the unhealthy banks.

I do agree, however, that the demonization of the banks has gone overboard. They aren’t any more to blame for the problem than the millions of people who bought more mortgage than they could afford.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

pnisher: whatever. You don’t believe me? Fine. I suggest you go to all the publicly published quarterly results of the big banks and take a look at their profit statements for 2008. I never talked about ability, I commented on judgement, two different things. Second, how do you know I’m a woman? That’s right, you don’t. The financial industry is primarily run by men, that is a fact. In addition to that, the top management is also primarily run by men, that too is a fact. Frankly, they haven’t done such a bang up job lately. Would women have done things better? Evidence from scandanavian banks suggest maybe, as many of those banks have women in upper management. There are numerous studies that have shown, for good or bad, that women are more averse to taking risk, this research is pretty widespread look it up in google scholar. Having BOTH women and men in upper management is a good strategy for any business as a diversity of opinions is always better than group think. You can bash the government and politicians all you want, but the bottom line is if the geniuses on wall street, primarily men, had not taken such bone headed decisions the world economy would not be in the toilet. Finally, if the government had not bailed out the banks, ALL of them would be bankrupt. Try to use your creative imagination to figure out what the situation of the economy would have been then. My brother audits banks for a living and he told me months before the collapse that this was going to happen. Finally, data that is older than 2008 suggesting that companies with women in power have better earnings is not “bogus.” You clearly don’t understand how published research works. It takes almost 2 years to publish data, that is what is called a peer review process. Look it up.

Posted by BB1978 | Report as abusive

I never said you were a woman…???

So, NOW the claim is that it is information from Scandanavian banks that supports your ridiculous claims. Interesting… so, now we’re comparing scandanavian banks against american banks and coming up with “conclusions” about results based on the gender of those in management, rather than the differences in the countries, norms, and regulations… Oh-Kay…

Well, that’s scientific…??? A comparison study with almost no constants.

Kudos to you for actually presenting a single fact (that of women generally being more risk-averse) that we pretty much all knew to begin with.

Some politicians have been saying for almost a decade that the assets held by fannie and freddie were unsafe. I guess your brother is behind the power-curve on that one.

Back up your claim that all the banks would be bankrupt without forced government intervention… (not that bankruptcy means the end of the business anyway, but a reset to reasonable values). You seem to like hyperbole there cowboy/girl. (“ALL of them” “diversity of opinion is always…”)

You’re clearly getting too emotionally involved in the argument, since you’ve now a) invented charges by me that you’re a woman. b) not even attempting to support your claims anymore. That was evident by your “whatever” comment.

Great argument. Can’t come up with facts, just say “whatever,” throw up your arms, and walk away. Like a teenager arguing over there curfew.

And now you’re drawing conclusions that research doesn’t support.

good job.

Posted by pnishr | Report as abusive

I am a girl and I believe women should be hire based on talent.

If an industry hired women or a minority for the sake of balanced, then that just a lot of BS. You know that, they know that. No one will take you seriously.

Posted by UROrange | Report as abusive

Did occur to anyone that there are less women in these jobs because as a whole, they are undesirable, offer poor security, working conditions, and an uncertain future working in a house of cards which is so bankrupt it can come tumbling down at any moment?

The economy as we have known it is no more folks. Stop waiting for a report from the top to validate this.

Listen to our women. They know something.

Posted by Buzz123 | Report as abusive

Pressure cooker jobs will never be able to contain women. They are part of patriarchal institutions designed for and built by men. Its not in womens nature to take on these roles and besides, they want more time for LIFE. One day businesses are actually going to figure that out.

Posted by misdelivery | Report as abusive

This is just a theory. But over the last decade Wall Street has certainly become more technology driven. Although this may be just moving the ‘shame’ over to another industry, there has been a lot of technology hiring on Wall Street and the computer industry has very bad gender imbalances. Could it be that we’re seeing this reflected in Wall Street?

Posted by nicfulton | Report as abusive

To say a woman cannot do it is offensive, but it is not offensive to say most women probably do not want to do it. The nature of that job just does not fit most women’s natural nurturing personality. Men tend to thrive in hostile or volitile businesses which boosts their testosterone and natural abilities.

This does not mean men are better at it, just we enjoy it more than women do. The fact that the market was doing so poorly is directly related to why women were leaving. The job didn’t have any benefit to women if they were not making money. Men on the other hand still get enjoyment from this particular job even if they are not making much money.

Posted by Darkly37 | Report as abusive

{I don’t find either of these theories particularly convincing. For one thing, have Wall Street back offices really thinned out since 2000? And were they particularly female-dominated back then?}

Spurious track, that.

As a male, perhaps you truly do NOT understand female preoccupations? Consider this key clue: “Women have this higher alternative value of how to spend their time” Does it give you a better insight into female priority values? No? Then you are hopeless.

The male gender achieves personal realization by means of his work, whether it be in business or sports. This is the principle means of establishing self-esteem. It is also the primogeniture of male pursuit of capital accumulation, since achievement is best expressed by the ostentation that riches afford us. Who wouldn’t like a Ferrari when the rest of us are driving Chevys?

The female gender is “programmed” since the dawn of time to nurture (the family, its children) and when a work environment becomes hostile by means of personal competition, milady opts out. Such does not correlate very tightly to her system of values and, indeed, many may feel that they “could be doing other, more enriching things with her life”.

What has more value to mankind — that megabuck bonus or a healthy and happy child?

Posted by deLafayette | Report as abusive

Nice report…

@BB1978: I strongly support Ur observation its gurlz/women who smooth out the life’s ups n down in general,hopfully they can do same in other areas also. Lets give it a try… ♫♪♥

Posted by NaughtyDevilz | Report as abusive

Maybe women dont see Finance as worthy..and who could blame them.

Posted by wickii | Report as abusive

Maybe it is because females recognize that the world of high finance can be about ego and coercion and once they get the bad taste in their mouths after being asked to cheat customers, lie and push risk onto unsuspecting clients while extracting huge bonuses for being corrupt they either want to do it their way (ethically) and start their own business or have other choices to pursue.

Or maybe she wasn’t allowed near that social circle even if she wanted to be. Maybe it is an aversion to financial crack? maybe someone asked her to sell some derivatives but couldn’t explain exactly what it was she was supposed to sell and told her to fudge it? Maybe she saw too many men making deals in strip clubs and over a line of cocaine? Maybe she wanted a life? And yes maybe she also wanted a baby and family.

I am still curious where the woman is who helped sell the abacus deal who was the liaison for Paulson and quit soon after… never to be heard from again. I think she is the proverbial fly on the wall.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

@BB1978 – THANK YOU! I wasn’t too surprised by the data you found. @pnishr: Your responses are full of frustration and aggravation. Male-bashing isn’t the issue here. If you work in a Wall Street firm and stand in the middle of the floor, look around and count the number of women v. men. Then consider each of those women and men in their comparable roles. Examine why you feel one person is better in that position than another. Women leave Wall Street because there is very little self-examination on the part of managers and executives regarding their choices for hiring and promotion. It is similar for other minorities as well. No one wants to be called sexist or racist, but an institution, through established hierarchies based on cronyism, will perpetuate the system that carries these flaws. If the creation of wealth was truly the bottom line for these firms, the corporate culture would truly reflect the best and the brightest. But as the derivatives mess has shown, the culture promotes the slickest. Someone should have said no before that got out of hand. But the dollar signs of easy money were too bright. Banks and investment firms are an important part of this nation’s, this world’s economy. If you want to call it male-bashing, go ahead, but a woman probably WOULD NOT have pulled that deal and thrown it on the table for 3 reasons: #1 – her male colleagues would have gutted her about the worth of deal and its inherent riskiness before swiping the idea out from under her and selling it themselves; #2 – derivatives swaps combined with the housing crisis would have made her uneasy; she would have seen the writing on the wall – deal goes bad, money lost and she’d be out the door, a convenient scapegoat; #3 – women ARE more risk averse because while a male colleague can make a mistake and survive it, a woman’s career would take the hit twice as hard – if she wasn’t fired, she would definitely have to either leave the company or find a new manager who would allow her to prove herself. In an overwhelmingly male environment, it is survival. Has anyone read “Whistling Vivaldi?”

Posted by Paine21 | Report as abusive

I’ve got a much simpler explanation of the numbers in the chart. The numbers in the chart are wrong.

If I am reading the chart correctly it suggests that male employment in financial services has grown and that female employment in financial services has shrunk over 10years.

I would bet all that I own that female financial sector employment is greater today than 10 years ago.

Posted by y2kurtus | Report as abusive