Goldman Sachs is a nasty employer that doesn't support mothers, compels women to breastfeed in parked cars and sidetracks them at the first sign of fecundity. So far, so squid-like. But is this really the case?
Yesterday Goldman settled out of court with Sonia Pereiro-Mendez, a London-based executive director in distressed investing with a catalogue of complaints that seemed to confirm the firm's reputation for not-so-niceness. Pereiro-Mendez said senior management made sexist comments about her childcare arrangements and underpaid her by £1.4m ($2.1m) over a four year period following her pregnancy. At one point, she breastfed in a car when returning for a meeting whilst still on maternity leave. Such was the sexism that Pereiro-Mendez was allegedly able to make covert films of Goldman staff incriminating themselves. These were said to be part of her evidence.
In the circumstances, Goldman's out of court settlement (said to be in excess of £1m) looks like an admission of culpability - or an attempt to make the whole thing go away and keep those films out of the public eye.
Goldman isn't commenting on the Pereiro-Mendez case, except to say that it's pleased that it's been resolved. In private, however, other mothers at Goldman Sachs say Pereiro-Mendez painted an unfair picture of motherhood at the firm. "We get six months maternity leave on full pay and there's a nursery in the building which every employee can use for free for up to 20 days a year," says one managing director in London. "Permanent places are also made available for some - mostly senior - women. My son goes every day and loves it," she adds. Pereiro-Mendez's first child, unmentioned in the press, is said to have been among the privileged full time residents of the Goldman nursery for several years.
Although Pereiro-Mendez breastfed in a parked car, Goldman also pioneered so-called 'lactation rooms' for women to pump breastmilk. The firm's New York office has had them since at least 2009. Maria Grant, a former head of equity derivatives research at the bank, said she 'nursed and pumped' for two babies whilst working there. Other Goldmanites pump more pragmatically: "My friend just did in the toilets - she didn't want too long off the floor," says one derivatives saleswoman.
It's also worth noting that Goldman regularly ranks among the Times top employers for women in the UK - and the only US investment bank apart from Morgan Stanley on the list. Surely motherhood at Goldman can't be all bad?
This is not to denigrate Pereiro-Mendez's claim that she was sidetracked. Another ex-Goldman executive director in the US said careers at the firm almost always slow after motherhood - unless you're prepared to prioritize work above your burgeoning family. "I lasted 9 years (out of 16 at the firm) as a working mom and I most definitely gave up any upside to my career," she tells us. "But that was my choice. There's a handful of women at Goldman who are just like men and basically outsource to nannies or stay at home dads and they get promoted just like the rest."
Goldman is a meritocracy, she adds: "When I was at Goldman I found that anyone - woman or man - who wanted to make partner or managing director would do ANYTHING. If a woman in that group had kids, she never saw them, just like the guys."
Pereiro-Mendez's breastfeeding-in-the-car incident occurred when she came into the office for a meeting during maternity leave. The ex-Goldman ED said staying in touch with clients during maternity leave isn't unusual, but that going to these lengths is. "I don't know why someone would have to come in from leave - that seems over the top, even for GS. She must've wanted to be MD," she says. "Those women are always on. I chose not to be, and maybe this woman had second thoughts."
This isn't the first time that Goldman has kept a maternity-related case out of court. In last 2010 it settled with Charlotte Hanna, a former VP in New York, who was suing the firm for gender discrimination after being fired whilst on maternity leave. Hanna's whereabouts are currently unknown.
Pereiro-Mendez may fade into similar obscurity.
"No one will hire her. I hope she's cool with that," says the ex-Goldman ED. Pereiro-Mendez probably is cool with it. Goldman mothers might be unfairly paid less than Goldman fathers, but they're still paid a lot . Between 2011 and 2013, Pereiro-Mendez earned £1.1m ($1.7m) working for Goldman Sachs. That's now been supplemented by her out-of-court settlement. Other mothers at the firm could be forgiven for covertly filming their colleagues and calling their lawyers too.