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Women in Finance

September 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I find this to be a surprisingly haphazard article from the Wall Street Journal. The data it cites from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is striking: from 2000 to 2009, the number of women working in financial services fell, even as the number of the women in the overall workforce grew.

Like Felix Salmon (whose post brought this article to my attention), the explanations cited range from the unsupported:

…technology likely accounts for some of the shift.

To the downright offensive:

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.

Buried in the second to last paragraph of the article is what I see as the most plausible explanation of this trend:

Many women report that sexism is still rife on Wall Street, albeit less overt. Sexual-discrimination charges by women at finance companies dropped 28% from 2000 to 2009, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But the number of charges per woman in the industry climbed during the recession in 2008 and 2009.

A 28% drop is significant, but it’s not zero.  So it stands to reason that this sexism is a disincentive for women to enter financial services.

This trend puts them squarely on the wrong side of America’s changing workforce gender demographics.  For an industry whose success is based on hiring the best and the brightest, it would seem obvious that this is an urgent problem.  Given the self-delusion that we’ve seen from the industry in the last 10 years, I won’t hold my breath that they’ll admit to it.

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