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GUEST COMMENT: To make it to the very top of an investment bank as a woman, you need to be childless or to pay for two nannies

Highly inimical to becoming partner at Goldman Sachs (Photo credit: LizaWasHere)

Highly inimical to becoming partner at Goldman Sachs (Photo credit: LizaWasHere)

“Just get two nannies that work 12-hour shifts.  That way you’ll never be without coverage!” said the Managing Director to the Vice-President upon her return after maternity leave.  “It’s such a peace of mind.  You’ll never have to rush home to relieve the nanny, and you can travel at the drop of a hat.”

The year was 1999, and you’d be surprised to know this was not some old man in the corner office sharing these pearls of wisdom.  It was a female Managing Director, not much older than the VP in question (me), who had also just recently had her own first child.  The MD had already achieved what few women had at Goldman Sachs – making “MD Light” – but still wanted that golden prize, Partner (a/k/a Partner Managing Director, or PMD).  And no child or personal life was going to get in the way of that.

And she was 100% correct in her approach.  She got that promotion, even if it took her longer than she’d hoped.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t so keen on out-sourcing the care and upbringing of my child, who was soon to have a sibling in 2000.  Surprisingly, I lasted another 8 years at the bank, but not without watching this scenario play out over and over again, and never rising above VP. Women who rose to the top were either unmarried and/or childless, or if they did have a family, the children were never spoken of, and they certainly did not intrude on these women’s careers.

Such are the choices many women make in any profession, but which seem ever more pronounced in investment banks.  There were always one or two women who were promoted and then summarily trotted out to every ladies-magazine and college campus as the example of how far Goldman had come in the realm of work-life balance.  They had the titles and the family — see how easy it is?  And the generous paid maternity leave (4 months!) was enough to make any woman who was forced back to their desks at 6 or 8 weeks envious.

But the realities on the ground were far different than the glossy brochures.  Did “flexible” only refer to how much the PMD had to bend her family life for the sake of the Firm?  The four months leave?  Usually spent still talking to or seeing clients and colleagues.  Paid?  Hard to say how much of a haircut you are getting when 90% of your comp is a subjective bonus.  And what about when you get back?  Four months is a long time to miss out on the political maneuverings of everyone around you – most of whom are betting on whether or not you’ll even return to your seat.   Which means very few professional-track women even took the entire time off.

The hard truth is that anyone who wants to rise in a client-facing role at an investment bank has to put the Firm first.  That includes men as well as women, regardless of whether or not they have a family.  And as a shareholder, I’m glad they do, to an extent.  But let’s not kid ourselves that the rank-and-file working mom who wants to truly be a part of her children’s lives is going to ever out-gun someone who is willing to put that aside for the sake of career progression.  So she either A) sucks it up and stays in Neutral for the better part of her career, or B) hops off the track entirely, taking with her the institutional knowledge and skill that took years to attain.  It seems like there should be an Option “C” in there, doesn’t it?

Julia Jones is the pseudonym of a long-time VP at Goldman Sachs who gave it all off to look after her children.

Comments (2)

Comments
  1. But what would you be asking for in an Option C? More time at the bank means more face time with senior management. Will also mean that you are more likely to be available when it most matters, being able to drop everything at a whim and close that deal that comes out of the blue and needs to be dealt with immediately, and hence being valuable to the bank. Are you saying that as a mother you should get less hours? Because my boss negotiated in her contract one day a week to be off in order to play a larger role in her children’s lives, and is still the head of a large and growing team. Or are you saying that because you had to leave to look after children (of course very important), that the ones who remain at the bank to work shouldn’t get more credit for the extra work/ extra deals they made?

  2. I do not know a single female sales person who gets off a day per week to spend more time with her children. So if that is possible at your company, congratulations! Option C could for example be a proper nursery at work so a mother can be there in emergencies and maybe go to see her children for a bit each day. Companies spend money on the newest gym equipment, so why not a nursery with high standards (not just a little room somewhere)? I have come across a nursery at an office site but a) the standard was not really appealing in my opinion and b) it was very very difficult to get a place there (possible only for EDs and above and unfortunately also open for non-working mums of higher ranking personal). I think it is possible to make it at least a little bit easier for women to handle both – being a mom and having a career. It might also make a difference if men had paternity leave that they ‘have’ to take (i.e. it won’t get credited to maternity leave if they don’t take it).

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