Gender gap on Wall Street, but to top women bankers care?

Posted on Monday, February 14, 2011

For a company that sets the bar for management, training, and all things associated with corporate excellence, I'm shocked at how badly Goldman Sachs's chief strategist, Abby Joseph Cohen (pictured below), handled her interview with Deborah Solomon of
The New York Times
last Sunday. Cohen was defensive, evasive, and humorless--three big strikes in my interview book.
Did Cohen, one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, skip her session with the media trainer, or is she really just not introspective?
Her biggest gaffe, as some commentators (like Dealbreaker's Bess Levin) have pointed out, is that she totally doesn't get why people might be curious about her sense of "responsibility for the e conomic meltdown of 2009," which, as Solomon points out, she "failed to foresee." Cohen's response: "That’s an odd question to be asking me."
But what was also striking to me was how indifferent she seems about the dearth of women on Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs in particular. Here's the exchange between Cohen and Solomon:
As a partner at Goldman Sachs and one of the best-known market analysts in this country, you’re surely aware that women continue to be thinly represented among the senior ranks on Wall Street. Why is that?
Let’s think about it in the following way: We can only deal with the pool of young women who make themselves available and express interest in investment banking.
I assume there’s no shortage of candidates.
But it’s not neces sarily 50-50. When we go to various MBA programs, for example, and I’m just giving you an illustrative number, if 30 percent of the class is women, then we would probably end up hiring about 30 percent women.
But if women make up 30 percent of MBA programs, as has been reported, why do they represent only 12 percent of the current partners at Goldman Sachs?
I don’t think that we are proud of it, and I think we do have aspirations of improving the numbers.

She didn't say anything wrong, but neither did she show any sense of urgency that the situation should change. I'm a bit surprised by her "that's the way the numbers add up" response, because the situation in the financial world for women is bleak. As I reported several months ago, there's been a 16.5 percent drop in the number of women in finance between the ages of 20 and 35 since 2000, while men in that age group increased by 7.3 percent. As I pointed out in that post, women lawyers are paradigms of success compared to their Wall Street sisters.
I might be reading too much into it, but Cohen reminded me of some of the more senior women I worked with when I was a junior associate in the eighties--that is, women who looked out for their own careers but were largely unresponsive--and perhaps unsympathetic--to the women below them. Their attitude is that they defied the odds with little help--and so should everyone else.
Perhaps Cohen and the women I came across represent another generation. And perhaps Cohen simply represents the I-banking ethos, where both men and women are so focused on their own performance and how that affects the bottom line that the larger social issues are just not that relevant.
In any case, the sta tistics of women on Wall Street and Cohen's reaction to them don't bode well for women in that sector. And it also doesn't bode well for the women lawyers who are trying to break the male stranglehold on those coveted financial institutional clients.
Tell us your experience. Do top women I-bankers care about the lack of women on Wall Street? Do they try to give business to women lawyers?

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