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It’s time banks stopped hiring saleswomen for their looks

Xenia Tchoumitcheva, the model who speaks six languages, has an economics degree , and previously had a sales internship at J.P. Morgan (before launching lifestyle website Chicoverdose.com).

Xenia Tchoumitcheva, the model who speaks six languages, has an economics degree , and previously had a sales internship at J.P. Morgan (before launching lifestyle website Chicoverdose.com).

This is going to sound sexist, but I attend a lot of conferences and it always disillusions me when I see stands filled with attractive women whose main purpose seems to be gaining the attention of the opposite sex for marketing purposes. It’s even more disenchanting when these women can’t converse about their product and a colleague has to be brought along as soon as things get technical.

Before I’m accused of rank sexism, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not suggesting women are not capable of holding a technical conversation. I am, however, suggesting that some women – like some men – are not capable of holding a technical conversation, but that irrespective of this, those women are used to sell products on the basis of their physical attractiveness. It’s something which not only disadvantages men, but also disadvantages many women in the industry – what happens if you’re seen as “too old,” or “too fat”? What if you’re a working mother who doesn’t have hours to devote to her appearance?

Hiring on the basis of appearance is shallow. It’s also something that happens too often in banking. The buy-side clients in finance are often male, and if you’re a bank it helps to have an attractive woman as the point of contact. Banks know either implicitly or explicitly that when a male buy-side employee receives a cold call, a Bloomberg chat, or an email from a woman who looks attractive, they are more likely to follow-up.

Male clients are partly to blame for this. Historically, many have abused their positions. A married female colleague of mine was asked by a client whether she was on Facebook so they could get to know each other. Another client only started trading with us after a female colleague who had her picture up on Bloomberg reached out to him via chat.

The truth, however, is that some women in banking also actively use their appearance to their advantage. I’ve seen female colleagues wearing mini skirts and showing cleavage at client meetings, even when these meetings take place in winter. The same colleagues will often take along junior staff who are experts in the product to do the talking once the introduction is over.

Unfortunately this is a formula that works. And because it works, I see employers and managers turn a blind eye to it.

It’s time the industry grew up. The male clients who meet these brokers during working hours, or for drinks after work, need to realize that they’re deluding themselves by presuming that their relationships are anything other than professional. The female saleswomen who are pretending to be their friends are just doing a job. They’re just trying to win business. If the male client loses his position, that female “friend” will disappear as well.

It’s time too that women in sales jobs in banks stopped buying into the culture that’s imposed upon them. Talent does not equate to looks and intelligent women should not be expected to use their appearance to bring in clients, to earn a bigger bonus, or get a promotion. The women who do often realize they have made a strategic mistake: life situations change and physical attractiveness may wane. If you’ve based your career upon your appearance it is often shorter than it would have been if you’d focused on technical expertise.

I’d like things to change. MiFID II’s emphasis on quantifiable metrics and best execution is a good start. However, I don’t really see the emphasis on appearance going away until the buy-side is replaced with robots. – At least that’s one advantage of the trend towards automation.

Leo Nard is the pseudonym of a salesman working for a U.S. bank in London

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Comments (2)

  1. Yes, bring on the hags!

  2. Good article, and a subject which isn’t really spoken about enough.

    Taking the term ‘attractive’ as its conventionally meant, its not just females – men in sales positions are often attractive as sales is an area where appearance is rightly or wrongly regarded as being important. And its not just in banking where physical attractiveness is used to sell and promote products – it happens in most if not all industries.

    It raises an interesting question as to whether attractiveness is a valid strength for someone to bring to a job in addition to or in some cases instead of intelligence or technical expertise, whether the person is male or female. If someone is given a job because they are attractive and are happy with that and don’t feel exploited, does someone else have the right to tell them they can’t have the job any more, and how deeply do we look at their motives for doing do, be they jealousy, concern that the person is being exploited, or something else? Who decides whether someone got a job because they’re attractive rather than through other skills and what should be done in these cases? How can attractiveness be objectively measured and should quotas be set for unattractive people? Should people try to look unattractive at work?

    If more buy-side clients were female, the likelihood is at that more attractive male salespeople would be hired. Certainly I’m aware of financial companies where some male managers have hired a higher than average number of attractive female staff and some female managers have hired a higher than average number of attractive male staff, inside and outside of sales.

    For the examples given, it would be interesting to know why the client was felt to be abusive just because they requested a female salesperson to be a friend on Facebook – did they know that the salesperson was married, does that imply that single people of different genders can be friends on Facebook but married people can’t, was the request sexual in any way, would it have been thought to be abusive if the client had asked a male salesperson to be a Facebook friend? I know many people in finance who are Facebook friends, male and female, married and single – requesting a female colleague, married or not, to be a friend on Facebook isn’t abusive unless there was something else which hasn’t been mentioned which leads to one person exploiting a position of power over another. Likewise, it isn’t the case that a client beginning to trade because a female salesperson with a picture reached out on Bloomberg is necessarily being abusive. Is the suggestion being made that the client wouldn’t trade when male salespeople got in touch, or that if the female salesperson hadn’t put a picture on Bloomberg, the client wouldn’t have traded, or that the client only traded because he found the female salesperson was attractive, or that he wanted (or received) something in return from the female salesperson for trading? It would be interesting to see evidence of any of this, also to have the female salesperson’s point of view.

    This goes beyond just sales roles in banking, would be good to see honest discussion around this from both females and males about how attractiveness is seen at work, inside and outside of sales.

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