Advice for Women in Finance

The following is a guest post by The_Analyst, principal and founder of Stone Street Advisors.

Some Advice For Our Female Readers Working in Finance (etc.)

My boy Comfortably Smug RT'd this supposed "expert" list of advice for women trying to make it in the "Man's World" that is Wall Street and Finance. Let me be the first to tell you, if you follow all of this "advice," you will make a fool of yourself. It's only a matter of time. Doubt this at your own peril. That being said, working with a bunch of dudes is not only really uncool, but is actually a sure-fire way to ensure an organization is rife with groupthink, tunnelvision, and other Very Bad Things.

In Finance (etc), we hope you can see how such things are counterproductive (to say the least!), so anyone who says women have no place in the industry is an idiot who'll inevitably come to regret his chauvinism sooner or later. Regardless, since we are 100% equal-opportunity, we'd like to provide some more color for our female readers, from a male perspective.

1. What if you aren't a big drinker?

The article suggests various strategies such as paying-off the bartender to pour your drinks weaker that everyone else's, drinking soda and telling people it's a gin & tonic, and other minor lies. These and similar strategies aren't horrible if you're trying to stay (mostly) sober, but I can see this easily causing much anxiety when it doesn't have to.

Anyone who graduated college should be used to guys acting like drunken morons. Do yourself a favor and practice being sober around them if you haven't already. If you're not a big drinker and/or you'd prefer to stay (mostly) sober for whatever reason(s), practice makes perfect. You should also try this out with your friends, so it'll be much easier when you do it for work. No reason to drive yourself crazy fretting about how you're going to deal with it when it inevitably happens. As they told us in Boy Scouts: Be Prepared!

If you decide to work in Finance (and other similar professions), and don't think such situations are going to pop-up, do yourself a favor and find another career. This applies to both men and women. If you're not cool with what the career entails, unless you're a glutton for punishment and/or a masochist, don't set yourself up for pain, sorrow, and worst, failure.

2. What if you're a vegetarian or vegan?

Ask Comfortably Smug. I'm little, if any, help here. But seriously, order the soup and salad. Unless you're really, really overweight, everyone will just assume its because you want to maintain your figure or something along those lines. You may get some relatively painless jokes thrown your way, but don't worry, as with almost everything, its not intended to hurt, so don't take it as such. Easier said than done, learning how to take a joke will help you so much in life I cannot even begin to explain…

3. How do you handle a conversation about the strip club?

Even at the whitest of white-shoe, the most staid of staid firms, this is an almost inevitable conversation. As I said above in my response to #1, if you think otherwise you are deluding yourself, and/or you do not know what the internet is. Or both. Whatever. I get that this is not an ideal situation in which to find yourself, to put it mildly, but to pretend it won't happen would be silly and self-defeating, so yea…

The article mentions that abstaining from such activities/conversations will likely have consequences, and in that, it is correct. However, I think it's worth expanding upon the advice provided:

"You could be missing a good business opportunity, but I don't think they're sober, talking shop in the strip club," Glickman said. Instead, she suggests saying, "See you in the morning," or "Let's get drinks before you go."

Frankel cautions against openly criticizing your colleagues. "If you choose to work in a culture that's clubby and masculine, you can try to change the culture, but in doing so you may damage your career," she said.

Glickman's advice is almost academic (read: not easily practicable In Real Life), but at least she's on the right track. Simply: If you don't wanna go, don't, whether it's because you think its a disgusting, abhorrent display of testosterone-fueled idiots behaving at their worse or whatever. The next day, when they're sober – or likely extremely hungover – only the biggest assholes are going to ding you for not joining. As long as you don't have an established track record of being a antisocial sour-sport, avoiding the debauchery that happens at your city's various gentlemen's clubs will quite often outweigh the potential damage you could do to your career by attending. While doing shots off a stripper's tits may get you high-fives at the time, I'm not quite sure how that's going to help your career. Unless you're Lynn Tilton, i.e. the exception not the rule.

4. How do you score an invite to the golf club/tennis court/squash court/basketball game?

Ok ladies and non-sporting gentleman, this is where I take the most exception with the 'advice" being peddled in the aforementioned advice column. Allow me to explain, bit-by-bit:

First, before you ask for a golf invitation, make sure you can actually hit the ball. Consider investing in some golf lessons. When Glickman was an MBA student at Cornell, she got the school to pay for golf lessons for female MBA students who wanted to learn the game.

This is actually very, very good advice. If you want to succeed in a field where playing golf is a hobby enjoyed by those at the top…learn to play golf. Where this starts to go a bit off is later…

Once you've taken some lessons, ask casually to be included if you hear someone mention a foursome going on the following weekend. Asking someone their handicap also implies that you play and know something about the game.

Many among you, male and female, may not see any problem with such an approach, but therein lies the danger. If you're new to golf, and/or only tangentially interested as a means to climb the corporate ladder, this would be setting yourself up for failure, as the situation is unknowingly loaded against you.

First, DO NOT ask to be included. DO.NOT. Feel free to talk about golf, talk about golf outings, etc, but DO NOT ASK IF YOU CAN COME. No one wants to hang out with someone like that. If you want to get invited, you just have to demonstrate over time that you are not a buzz kill. Second, when you mention something like a golf handicap, the automatic assumption is going to be that you not only have one (of which you are not ashamed), but that you know far more about golf, handicaps, etc than that. If you don't watch golf, read Golf Digest (at least here or there), know the top courses in your area/the country/the world, etc, etc ad nauseum, you run a very-real risk of that becoming readily apparent, much to your own embarrassment.

"Act as if" was only a line in Boiler Room. Meaning: if you're just trying to hang, don't be surprised when those who do find out you're just pretending.

In fairness, the article goes on to provide another alternative, which I think is actually quite smart an idea, again, so long as you're comfortable with so-doing:

If golfing's not your game, think of another way to make the client happy, like scoring tickets to a sold-out Bon Jovi concert. It doesn't matter where as long as you manage to build a relationship outside the office. Making that connection will enable you to hear about things you otherwise may not have been privy to, especially since people tend to relax in an environment outside the conference room.

Again, this is a good idea, with the caveat that if you're into jazz/classical and have to try to memorize the chorus to "Living On A Prayer" in the car on the way to the show, I'd strongly suggest sticking to your strong suits instead of trying to show that you're "cool." Most importantly, I cannot describe (without extensive cursing) how terrible an idea the following is:

It's also not a bad idea to pluck the morning sports scores off the Bloomberg terminal so you can impress your boss. Tossing a key game stat into conversation can earn you more credibility than five perfect presentations.

Just like with the pretend golfer example, this has significant potential to make you look like an idiot. Unless you're into that sort of thing, and you happen to work somewhere so-doing has a weird way of paying-off, do yourself a favor and either 1. ignore this advice or 2. only mention things about which you're ready and willing to discuss at further length/depth. If you walk into work and say "How about them Yankees?" you better be able to discuss the Yanks' decision to bring in a closer when the starting pitcher was having such a solid night, how the AL-East is playing-out going into the All Star Game, etc. Otherwise, again, you're potentially setting yourself up for failure. Again, this does not apply only to the ladies, but to men who aren't into sports just the same.

5. What do you do if you think you're getting paid less because you're a woman?

For what(ever) it's worth, I don't see any reason to pay someone more or less simply based on their gender. I actually think so-doing is not just wrong but patently ignorant, as numerous studies suggest that not only are women just as capable as men, but in many cases, may in fact be more-so! Unfortunately, people are stupid and/or maintain biases despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Such is life.

Since I'm neither a woman, nor one who sets compensation (yet), I'm going to defer to the advice in the article here.

Like I said, the advice isn't ALL bad, not hardly, and contrary-to what I tried to shoe-horn into

Hopefully you've found this helpful and, if we're really as witty as we think we are, a good read, too. If not, we wish you the best of luck next time your drunken colleagues are cheering for you to do body shots on the bar.

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