Do you need to be “one of the lads” to get ahead in financial services? A woman who spent five years working in fund management claims this was what she was told.
Erika Wesson began working at Fidelity’s Pyramis Global Advisors in 2007. She was the only woman on the institutional real estate acquisition team at $2.3 trillion asset management firm Fidelity Investments, scouting for deals across the U.S. and receiving positive reviews that included ratings of “exceeding expectations” and “outstanding,” according to Bloomberg.
The problems began in 2008 when Wesson received an anonymous email sent from a Yahoo account whose address was a crude comment on her anatomy: “Maybe you can go out there and do another deal where you lose millions. Stupid Bitch!” and said she would be fired.
Then, in 2010, Wesson claims that Sujit Sitole, a male employee who was junior to her but acting as her boss, told her she wasn’t getting ahead because she “didn’t drink beer, watch football or eat meat.” He also allegedly advised her to play a stereotypical female role, taking a “back seat” by remaining silent even when she knew the answer to a question asked by a managing director.
Sitole maintains that his words have been misconstrued. He says he told her didn’t need to do any of those things to be part of the group.
Wesson left Fidelity in 2011. The company paid her $500k and promised to provide good job references including the phrase, “I have no reservations recommending Erika for employment” – and make no disparaging comments about her.
However, Wesson claims she has been blackballed in the industry and says Fidelity is to blame. For example, in 2012, after Marc Cardillo, a managing director at investment consulting firm Cambridge Associates, met Wesson, he shot an email to Jeffrey Gandel, another of her former Fidelity bosses: “hubba hubba – how’d you let her go?” Later, presumably after hearing why from Gandel, the consultant got an email from Wesson, which he forwarded to Gandel, adding “Crap!”
In 2014, years into Wesson’s fruitless job search, Enrique Bellido, former director of construction management at Fidelity, sent her an email: “Karma is a bitch, isn’t it Erika?”
After about 60 interviews, the Vanderbilt MBA has not found another job in finance. In 2015, she filed a breach-of-contract suit.
In rare public remarks after taking the helm in 2014, Abigail Johnson, the chairwoman, president and CEO of Fidelity, which was founded by her grandfather Edward C. Johnson II, promised to root out the mistreatment of women, fight sexual harassment and recruit more women.
Separately, while the work/life balance on Wall Street is notoriously bad, especially for new parents, one prestigious firm is courting the favor of new fathers.
Morgan Stanley boosted paid leave to four weeks from one week for non-primary caregivers following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, according to Bloomberg.
Primary caregivers are still eligible for 16 weeks of time off, but instead of having to take it in a continuous block, can break the leave into two-week sections after the initial eight weeks.
Technology companies have unveiled more generous benefits for new parents, so banks have had to enhance parental leave in a bid to retain employees and fend off competitors. Last year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch increased parental leave from 12 to 16 weeks, and in late 2015 Credit Suisse extended its maternity leave to 20 weeks.
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