‘Brian’, a director in an investment bank in London, admits he probably left it a little late to start a family. In his late-30s and still trying to make the difficult step up to MD, he bit the bullet – his wife became pregnant with their first child and he also took the decision to move out of a small central London apartment into a larger house in Surrey, an hour and half commute away.
Suddenly, he went from a stone’s throw away from the office, able to come and go as required, to a three-hour round trip away, up to his eyes in nappies at home and expected to pitch-in with childcare. 18 months later, a second child was on the way – this time the pregnancy was complicated, and he needed (and wanted) to be closer to home to help his wife. His employer, to its credit, allowed him to work from home a lot and provided the necessary technology to keep him connected to colleagues in the City. But, he believes, this was a death knell for the step-up to MD.
“It’s a tough challenge to make the move up to MD at the best of times, but I think I’d need to make a conscious effort to put in 150% to make that jump. At the moment, this simply isn’t possible,” he says.
Career stasis for financial professionals as life becomes more complicated is a common problem. Unless you’re 100% committed to the job, you are quietly overlooked, suggest finance professionals we spoke to.
Sonia Pereiro-Mendez, the Goldman Sachs executive director who settled a claim of maternity and sex discrimination, claims her bosses said that "given her pregnancy she was no longer a significant long-term player". Meanwhile, a study released earlier this year by University of Florida economists suggested that both marriage and divorce mean tanking performance for hedge fund managers.
In short, as you get a little older and need to put in the extra effort to move up to the senior ranks, life gets more complicated.
One female director at a Big Four accounting firm has two young children under ten and recently split with her partner. She tells us that wants to spend as much time as possible with her children, has flexible working arrangements already, but feels that she’s over-compensating because of this.
“I’m constantly responsive, usually work in the evenings once the children have gone to bed and am always arranging conference calls at unsociable times,” she says. “We’re paid well and I accept that it’s part of the job. But I still feel that my commitment is being called into question by a lot of people. Making that extra push to make partner just seems out of reach.”
“You’re stuck essentially,” says Brian. “Either you feel you’re not committed to the job, or you’re not supporting your wife with the children enough. It’s a decision I’ve had to make. We’re close to good schools and we have a garden – you wouldn’t get that in London.”
Making the step-up to managing director in investment banking is a very political process. On the one hand your numbers need to add up, but in a lot of organisations it’s a democratic process – you need the buy in of those beneath you. What’s more, once you make it, you can’t step back.
“Managing directors in investment banking last around 18 months,” Randy Dillard, the former head of investment banking at Nomura told a conference last year. “Most people simply cannot handle the amounts of revenue they are expected to generate year after year.”
Being 35+ with dependents and still being required to clock 80 hours plus a week simply isn’t feasible, suggest the finance professionals we spoke to. Some simply quit.
One former Big Four director who left shortly after having children tells us that despite a renewed push to promote more women in senior roles within these firms, few women hold positions of “real influence”.
“In the majority of cases, the female partners were either unmarried, childless or had husbands who were able to support their careers,” she says. “The advice I received from a female partner on how to survive in a male-dominated environment was to keep myself trim and wear make-up.”