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Ladies: Your Rock May Be Sinking Your Career on Wall Street

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones found himself with his foot squarely in his mouth last month when he called motherhood a career “killer” for macro traders, noting, rather graphically, that “as soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it.” Sadly, Jones doesn’t appear alone in his thinking; some Wall Street bosses share his fear – and act on it.

“Going through a job search and meeting with every big wire house and broker dealer, looking for a job with an engagement ring made for some interesting off-the-record discussions,” said one female trader who was recently married. “I was, at times, speechless in response to some of the comments made to me about my desires to have a family and my desire to have a career.”

The trader, who chose to remain anonymous, was asked directly in one interview whether she wanted a family OR a career, with the interviewer preceding the question by saying that it was “completely off the record” and, noting jokingly, that human resources would “kill him” if they knew about the line of questioning.

“I was flabbergasted,” said the trader, who was looking for just her second job on Wall Street after a long stretch with one employer. “I said that I didn’t realize the two were mutually exclusive.” She didn’t get the job.

During another interview, a father of two went into great detail about the vacation house he has for his family, and how he sits in the driveway in his car working all weekend. He also mentioned missing his children’s baseball games and school plays. “As a mother, would you be OK missing all of that for your children?” he asked her. She didn’t get that job either.

Louisa Symington Mills, a senior analyst at Jefferies and founder of the City working mothers network, says that having an open dialogue during an interview can be a good thing, and can lead to a happier working relationship in the long run. “If you have near term plans to have a baby, or if your childcare arrangements mean you would need to work certain hours, starting the conversation during the interview process might help rather than hinder your chances,” she said.

Another female Wall Streeter was never asked any inappropriate questions in interviews, but noticed strange comments after she became pregnant. “I was always asked about my due date and my home arrangements during my pregnancies,” she said, noting that maternity leaves at her particular firm tend to be more figurative than literal.

“If you want to take maternity leave and have any sort of credibility when you come back, it is assumed you will be fully accessible while you are out, not to mention the resentment of your colleagues who would have to pick up the slack if you didn’t manage your workload,” she said.

Working on Wall Street both before and after having children, the VP saw the disadvantages of both lifestyles first-hand. Before she had children, she would always get assigned the “extracurricular” activities with no thought to additional compensation, said the veteran Wall Streeter.

“Women tend to take on all the details and work toward a best solution so we end up being viewed as the go-to person for a lot of project work,” even though her line of business was in a different field, she said.

After she was married, the role of men and women in the office became more polarized in her eyes. “Married men tend to stay at the office and enjoy after work activities – work related or otherwise – because they knew if they got home after a certain hour all of the ‘chores’ would be done by their wives,” she said. “Women, on the other hand, can’t stay late because they feel the same duty to the home as they do to their work.”

Married women at her firm utilize every minute of the day efficiently, she said. No long lunches – unless they’re running a family errand – and they often work during their commutes.

Efforts to Keep Mothers Employed

In fairness to banks and other financial firms, major efforts are being put forward to give women more opportunities and to encourage them to stay on Wall Street after having kids. As an example, Goldman Sachs offers onsite backup childcare, OB-GYN services and infant transition care, as well as a Maternity Mentoring program, along with other offerings.

Morgan Stanley provides seminars on infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), car seat safety, and newborn care and lactation, along with onsite Lamaze classes. At J.P. Morgan, employees are eligible to receive eight weeks of childcare after they give birth to or adopt a child. The eight weeks are in addition to the 20 back-up days for which all employees are eligible. Nearly all financial firms today offer flexible working arrangements for mothers.

The problem, according to the Wall Street VP, is the subversive pressure not to rely heavily on such programs. “Even though every company touts their flex work arrangements, most women feel they can’t get approval, or are looked upon differently if they take advantage of it,” she said. “And for those of us who do take advantage of it, it is clear work comes before flexibility and many times meetings are still arranged with no consideration to flexible arrangements. So the flexibility goes out the window.”

She’s never seen one of her colleagues speak up about the reality of work-life programs. “So you grin and bear it,” she said.

Hallie Crawford, an Atlanta-based career coach who has worked with women in financial services, said the programs do help, provided they are safe, convenient and affordable. “The challenge is we need more of them,” Crawford said.

The numbers tell the tale. Despite accounting for roughly half of the total workforce in the U.S. and the U.K., women are still in the minority at the highest levels of Wall Street. Goldman Sachs’ newest partner class is 14% women, for example, which is the highest percentage since at least 2006. The latest class of managing directors at Goldman was 23% women. At Morgan Stanley, it was just over 17%.

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