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The Latest Crises Besetting Affluent White Women
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September 08, 2011, 10:41 PM
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Kevin Drum is upset by an LA Times article:
The financial industry, long known for its boys-club environment, has only a small fraction of women as top executives. And that small cadre has been thinning out in recent years, with the most recent example Krawcheck`s departure as BofA`s president of global wealth management. Her departure is part of a broader trend in the financial industry in recent years: Female employees are losing their jobs at a faster clip than men. ... 
....The finance industry has not historically been known as a welcoming place for women. The cigar and strip-club reputation was confirmed by a lawsuit against Smith Barney in the 1990s, which accused it of turning a blind eye to raunchy, sexist behavior. The lawsuit later became the subject of a book called "Tales From the Boom-Boom Room." 
The attention brought by the suit spurred wide-scale changes that helped stamp out overt discrimination and open up hiring. A decade ago, the number of women in finance was rising.

 

Similarly, on Forbes:
Public-relations executive Richard Edelman writes in his blog this week that he wants women to occupy half of the senior roles in his company by 2016. 
"Our goal is simple—50% of those on Strategy Committee, Operating Committee, GCRM and practice leadership will be women by 2016," he writes. "They will have earned the positions; there will not be a quota." 
Edelman, who is president and CEO of Edelman, the world`s largest independent public-relations firm, acknowledges that his industry has no problem attracting women. Some two-thirds of his workforce is female, he writes. But the ranks of women start to thin in leadership roles.

 

Wall Street, as seen in the works of Tom Wolfe, Michael Lewis, and Oliver Stone, is a notoriously competitive, macho, insensitive environment. 

Other industries are less so, but, still, as you climb the corporate ladder, the environments often get more macho. 

For example, I worked for a successful start-up in market research, which was, at the MBA entry level, very yuppie and pretty gender neutral (we went out to restaurants in mixed sex groups and then talked about other restaurants, since food was one topic that appealed to both sexes). The market research industry as a whole is pretty genteel and sedate. One marketing research tycoon I knew, an old B-17 bomber pilot, liked to point out, with a little contempt, that most of his competitors had been started by college professors or housewives. (I suspect PR is even more feminine and much more gay at the MBA entry level than is Marketing Research. But, the top dogs even in big PR firms tend do be masculine guys.)

But the founders of my company, which revolutionized the market research industry in the 1980s, were high testosterone guys who were into importing Porsches that had to be customized for six months just to be street legal in the U.S. One morning in 1983, after about six months on the job, I was standing on a street corner in Lincoln Park waiting for the bus to work, when the CEO pulls up in his TurboPorshe and offers me a ride. "Sure!" But, the stoplights on La Salle Street heading toward the Loop are not optimized for a CEO who floors it at every green light and thus gets caught by every single red light. So, every block consisted of us going 0-60 in five seconds, with my head being shoved back into the headrest, followed by 60-0 in five seconds (with my forehead just about bouncing off the dashboard). When we got to work, the CEO offered to pick me up every morning on that corner, but, feeling pummeled by G-forces and whiplash from the ride, I went back to taking the bus.

Then, luckily for me, when the founders started pushing 40, their recreations downshifted from the Need for Speed to becoming fanatical golfers. This worked out well for me socially at the office, because, being a lower testosterone guy about a decade younger, I`d transitioned earlier from playing contact sports to being a golf fanatic at about age 25. So, by the time the bigshots` hormone levels had dropped enough to move on from racing sports to golf, I was already an expert on all the best public golf courses in the Chicago area. So I played a lot of golf with the top dogs while they were getting started in the game. (One boss got so into my hobby of golf course architecture that he went on to build his own fine golf course in Wisconsin, and then singlehandedly revamped, without a professional golf course architect`s assitance, it to make it more interesting.)

Very few women feel the urge to, say, drive around the Chicago suburbs visiting golf courses to rate them for quality. It`s a good thing to know for career networking purposes, but it really only appeals to individuals with a nerdy turn of mind and a fairly average level (for a man) of male hormones. It`s not utterly unknown among women — one very friendly, slightly tomboyish woman golfer in Accounting was a popular choice for golf foursomes, but she wasn`t really into finding new, good golf courses to play (but she liked to arrange golf resort trips, with more emphasis on quality of accommodations than on the course itself — a more feminine version of this urge). But caring a lot about golf courses is fairly rare among men and extremely rare among women.

Returning to these complaints about disparate impact on women in the executive suites, let me point out that one mechanism that thins the ranks of women in the executive suites is that as young women climb the corporate ladder, they come into less and less contact with the dweebier guys down the ladder and more and more contact with the most powerful and ambitious men at the top. Women don`t generally love working in the macho atmospheres found higher up, but a lot of them do fall in love with individual macho executives, whom they often marry. And then they tend to downsize their own careers (since their husbands make so much money) to concentrate on helicopter mothering their children. 

I recall one young woman at my old company who was shooting up the corporate ladder until she became a direct report to the single most brilliant youngish executive. After awhile, he left his wife and kids to marry her, and then she started concentrating less on her own career and instead on the promoting the career of her very high income, very high potential new husband.

So, here`s a different model of what might have happened on Wall Street: Affirmative action pressure to hire women at Wall Street banks to avoid disparate impact lawsuits led to a lot of women getting hired, who then found that they don`t really like trading, with its macho atmosphere, but they do like macho traders. In fact, they like them so much they want to have their babies. So, they tended to marry a rich male colleague, then downshift careerwise to being a Tiger Mother for their offspring.

I can`t say that I`m terribly outraged by any of this.