Barnard College's Monthly Magazine
I’m not at liberty to say where I worked this summer or where I’ve signed to work starting in the summer of 2013, but it’s safe for you to assume, as I did, that this financial institution has a reputation as a horrifyingly cutthroat environment, sucking out all of the femininity of the female experience. Before I began work this summer, I feared that it would be that place – an institution where I would have to hide who and what I am in order to fit into the stereotype of a Wall Street Woman: a crazy intense, money-obsessed, non-emotional lady, as smart as her male counterparts, but inevitably one day hitting a glass ceiling in a male dominated, fraternized world. I was terrified, and rightly so, based on the evidence presented to me from my male peers who had spent prior summers paying their dues with sleepless nights and long weekends in the office, crunching numbers and correcting pitch books.
I should qualify my experience and tell you that I didn’t work in investment banking, but rather was placed on a leadership development track focused on operations and business management. Nonetheless, I worked at a bank where I was expected to be on my A-game at least ten hours a day. To my surprise and satisfaction, my experience working in finance was something I greatly benefited from as a woman. While it may be a field definitely dominated by men, it is clear the women employed here are there for a reason. They too logged the hours, put in the work, and wanted to be there.
As a young woman, I arrived there in June a naïve almost-senior. Even as a member of the strong Barnard community and as someone who assumes leadership roles in all aspects of life, I was scared. I feared the competition and I worried I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations of the unemotional, cold, tough men to whom I would be reporting. But I, and all the other young women I knew working on “The Street” this summer, rose to the challenge. What became clear through the ten weeks working in this male-dominated field was that no one was looking at me as a woman; they were looking at me as an intern. The expectations of me and my other female counterparts were to get the job done with the same tact we had used to get the job in the first place. We were all there for a reason, and we were going to be held to the same standards as any guy in the same position. In a lot of ways, this was liberating in our gender-obsessed society. Everyone was on an equal playing field, and the issues being raised everywhere in the news with regard to women in the workplace didn’t seem to be so apparent in my situation. Male or female, we all commiserated on shortcomings, whether that meant a man being called out on not wearing socks with loafers or a woman being told it was inappropriate not wear stockings to meetings.
For me, the issue we should be discussing for young people going into finance isn’t about how women need to raise the glass ceiling and make it to the top, or even how men need to understand how women’s lives are different. The truth is we are all different and that is what leads to success: different styles and different ideas working together. Respect and understanding of these differences on all ends is what will lead to equality and positive growth. This is what the financial world needs. Moreover, young, smart, unjaded, diverse graduates going into finance is what the economy needs. The intimidating men I expected to be working for were actually tough, inspiring women and men who expected nothing short of excellence from everyone on their team, myself included. If my unexpectedly egalitarian experience is any indicator of the strides being made in the financial world, then I have lots of hope for the field I’m excitedly entering in July.
by Talia Klein