(Bloomberg) -- The snickering and the “nasty woman” jokes that echo across trading floors when Hillary Clinton appears on TV. The mansplaining from the boss on how locker-room talk really is just locker-room talk, so get over it.
It’s never been easy to be a woman on Wall Street. But for many, this polarizing U.S. election season has pulled at old wounds -- and in some cases opened new ones -- as the political vitriol has spilled into the workplace.
The issue transcends personal politics. Republicans and Democrats alike say the candidacies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have prompted a new level of soul-searching about the bro culture of American finance. And whoever wins next Tuesday, the questions aren’t going away.
Interviews conducted with more than a dozen women across the Wall Street spectrum -- from as young as 28 to as old as 66 and representing all types of firms big and small -- paint a complex portrait of how this election is shaping workplace conversations and behavior in the industry.
Many older women in senior roles shrug and say at least things are better than they used to be. (Some basic facts underscore that point: Women now make up almost half of the workforce in the financial industry, harassment training has become standard and numerous firms have started women-empowerment initiatives.) Many younger women working their way up, though, say the divisiveness has made it blindingly clear there’s still a long way to go.
In interview upon interview, a couple of core concerns emerged. They’re bothered by the uptick in edgy banter they’ve detected from their male colleagues as Trump advanced in the campaign. And they wonder how they’ll advance in their own careers if their coworkers question Clinton’s fitness for the presidency because she’s a woman.
“Outrageous comments go well beyond the locker room and into the boardroom,” said Virginie Morgon, deputy chief executive officer of Eurazeo SA, a private-equity firm. “We have to talk about it, we have to make it known. Otherwise nothing changes.”
Many women say discrimination, subtle or not so subtle, is a fact of life in an industry dominated by men. Indeed, they worry that talking openly about it will stifle their careers. Most of those interviewed by Bloomberg spoke on the condition they not be named, saying they feared they’d lose their jobs or be ostracized by colleagues. As one put it, gender politics is the elephant in the room: Most women want to discuss it, but few think they can.
From male subordinates’ defiance to less-rigorous assignments, especially after having a baby, every woman interviewed had something to say about the sexism they face today. For those trying to make it into senior management, the scrutiny of Clinton’s likability is particularly unsettling. The percent of women in these Wall Street jobs falls to 26 percent; at the very top, the number slides further, to just 15 percent, according to consulting firm Mercer.
An executive at a large hedge fund, who said she’s Republican, said that hearing male colleagues disparage Clinton -- “potentially the most powerful person in the world” -- in ways they would never disparage a man made her question what they say behind her back.
A senior manager at another hedge fund, who’s a Democrat, said that while Clinton is certainly not without faults, many of the swipes she hears from men “sound a lot like what I could imagine them criticizing me for: She’s too harsh, not filling the feminine role, she dresses like a man, she’s unlikable.’’
“It’s a huge, huge issue,” she continued. “You’re either a woman or you’re a leader, but there’s a belief that you can’t be both.”
Stand By Me?
A trader at another firm said she’s come to question her boss’s judgment after he dismissed Trump’s caught-on-tape comments about sexual assault. As one of the millions of American women who’ve been sexually assaulted during their lives, she now wonders if her boss would stand by her if she were victimized at work or on a business trip. She’s thinking about quitting.
Several other women said they felt fortunate to work with men who’ve disavowed Trump’s misogynistic statements. One young bank analyst said her colleagues have gone out of their way to do so. And a portfolio manager said the campaigns have prompted an open dialog about the challenges women face in leadership roles.
Yet some worry that this election will only widen the male-female divide on Wall Street.
Natalie Diaz, who works in sales and trading at BCP Securities in Greenwich, Connecticut, says she has no complaints about her colleagues, almost all of them men. But that doesn’t mean Trump’s remarks about women won’t embolden others.
“It makes men feel they’re allowed to make certain comments themselves,’’ Diaz said.
Maureen Sherry, a former managing director at Bear Stearns Cos., said the long-term effect may be that men on Wall Street will further cut female colleagues out of meetings and after-hour events for fear of offending them.
“Men may feel like, in a social situation with the women they work with, they can’t let their hair down any longer,” said Sherry, author of “Opening Belle,” a novel about women on Wall Street. “I think it’ll be more isolating for women.”