Are Wall Street Men really Scared?
On December 3rd, Bloomberg News ran an article titled “A Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost.” The article describes how men on Wall Street are responding to the #MeToo movement and their approach may create unintended consequences that further set women back in the workplace. Apparently, Wall Street men believe that the risks of being falsely accused of misconduct or having their actions misconstrued by women are far too great and they are avoiding any circumstances that may potentially put their careers in jeopardy. As such, they are opting out of one-on-one situations with women. This approach will limit the amount of bonding time and opportunities that women have to build relationships which are instrumental to their pathway up the career ladder. Some men are even saying that hiring women in itself causes too many complications, and if given the choice, their preferences would be to hire men.
I however, am not convinced that this is the consensus view of the men on Wall Street but rather a gross generalization made by a few in an attempt to diminish a movement that poses a threat to the natural order of things. Wall Street is still a male-dominated habitat and as women continue to seize power, men are trying to stand their ground and defend their turf. Retaliating against this movement by creating a counter-effect that hinders women’s advancement is a mere effort to keep women in-line and make them think twice about raising accusations. I also believe that those men who prefer to hire men over women do so because they want to perpetuate a “bro culture” and not because they are spooked by the #MeToo movement.
Over the last 14 months the world has watched as women have seized their power and it has shaken many of our institutions to their core. As the movement has become politicized there has been a fair amount of collateral damage and a number of men have been falsely accused of misbehavior. This is unfortunate. Men have been vilified and they are rightfully concerned. What’s been interesting however, is that as this movement has continued to unfold, Wall Street has remained rather unscathed from the scandals. With its lack of high-profile cases, the industry has kept itself insulated and those looking on from the outside, wonder if a shoe is yet to drop. It may however be unlikely because the heydays of Wall Street’s “bad boy” behaviors are mostly a thing of the past.
Last summer, when I set out to write the second edition of my book, I had a theory. My theory was exactly what was described by the men interviewed for this Bloomberg article. I believed that Wall Street would see a backlash from the #MeToo movement and ultimately this would set women back in the workplace. I also thought that it would hurt the hiring prospects of women. Much to my surprise, as I interviewed many male managers in my industry, their responses did not support my theory.
While there is no doubt that the #MeToo movement has raised awareness on the Street among men, they are still conducting themselves just as they did before. If they historically went out for dinner and drinks with female colleagues, they continued to do so and the Movement hasn’t necessarily curtailed their behaviors. Most of the men with whom I spoke believe that they treat their female colleagues with respect and decorum; whether they be peers or subordinates. As one man whom I interviewed said and many echoed the same sentiment, “if you walk a straight line then you have nothing to worry about.” This runs along the same lines of Stephen Zweig’s comment in the Bloomberg article “Just try not to be an asshole.”
Since the Bloomberg story broke, I continued to interview men on Wall Street in order to get their reactions. Many thought that the concept of avoiding their female colleagues was a ridiculous notion and went so far as to say that men who are thinking this way are probably the ones who tend to behave badly. Their paranoia may also stem from their inability to trust themselves in the presence of women, particularly when alcohol is involved.
I also think that the type of firm in which you work may come into play. Those who work for large structured organization with policies around issues of harassment may have a different reaction because the lines are more clearly drawn. Larger firms tend to address these issues, especially when patterns of misconduct begin to arise within the culture. Perhaps those working in smaller organizations without robust HR departments may be less clear on which behaviors are permissible and lines may seem a bit more blurred. Structured sell-side firms and large buy-side organizations have strict rules and protocols which protect both men and women.
Women also have to shoulder some responsibility and remain mindful of their own behaviors. The entire concept of my book, Lose the Gum, A Survival Guide for Women on Wall Street, Main Street and Every Street in Between, describes certain female behaviors that hold women back in the workplace. Although crying tops the list of those behaviors, it’s really emotional volatility in general. Women are perceived as unreliable if they cannot keep their emotions in-check. Ask any man what they fear most and they will tell you it’s hysterical women; and it didn’t take the #MeToo movement for this fear to emerge. Men have always been afraid of “crazy.”