The gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Goldman last week has given rise to the usual sorts of questions regarding the position of women in finance.
Questions like: where are the women at the top? Is discrimination entrenched and systemic, or are the examples in the lawsuit unique? How can firms revamp their cultures so as to obviate that form of discrimination?
Here are a few tips as to what women in finance can do to combat on-the-job discrimination.
Avoiding Menial Traps
Shanna Orlich, a former associate, said in the complaint that she was continually asked to make photocopies, even though she was an executive. If you're put in that situation at work, saying no can make it seem like you're not a team player. What's a VP to do?
"If you're a high level exec, you can say, 'why don't we get one of the administrative assistants to do it?'' says Dr. Lois Frankel, a career coach whose most recent book was used to develop Citigroup's controversial guidelines for women in the workplace. "If you're lower-level, you can make the copies and if you're asked to do it again next week you can say, 'hey, let's spread the joy around.'" There are graceful ways to avoid demeaning yourself -- make sure to do it with aplomb or you'll risk being seen as uncooperative.
Marking Your Territory
Another plaintiff, H. Cristina Chen-Oster, a former Vice President, complained that her desk was farther away from the center of activity than some of her male colleagues, even though she was higher up in the organization.
If you're moved to a seat that seems more appropriate for your subordinates, don't hesitate to bring it up with your manager. Ask innocently, never accusatorily, and frame it as "I'm just curious why we're moving people around," Frankel recommends. Still, she warns that questioning authority is a risk, so it's up to you to decide whether it's worth it.
Getting in the Mix
Orlich also claims she was never invited to golfing trips, even though she played varsity golf in high school.
If you're being left out of important bonding sessions, make it your business to get invited to the next outing. Have your mentor -- or even better, an advocate -- speak on your behalf to wrangle you an invitation. Interpersonal connections are as important in finance as any other aspect of your job, including overall performance, so it's crucial that you be there.
More broadly, women at finance firms can join affinity groups that are designed to provide strength in numbers. Frankel herself has spoken to Goldman's women's affinity group and recommends joining it if you're lower-level and supporting it if you're senior level. Being the conscience of an organization on your own won't earn you any friends and will probably damage your career. Going to HR with other women with a similar complaint is far more effective.
These steps might seem insignificant, but little things like your desk's location, your presence in bonding situations and how you handle unfair treatment can add up and make a big difference in your career.
Write to Julie Steinberg