Nina Godiwalla, an investment banker at Morgan Stanley, meets with an associate and a senior officer of the bank at Starbucks. In the middle of discussing a basketball game, the senior officer says he can't continue the conversation because they're in "mixed company."
Another time, Godiwalla eats dinner with several senior directors at MS who spend the entire meal discussing their times at Scores, a local strip club. She also goes for an expensive meal with a female analyst who's barred from attending a golf trip with a client and is told instead to "splurge" on a meal on her own.
These are just some of the stories that Godiwalla, 35, tells in her new book, "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street." Godiwalla, who received her MBA from Wharton and a master's in creative writing from Dartmouth, worked at Morgan Stanley from 1997 to 1999 in corporate finance. That group is among the most competitive to enter at the bank and is notorious for its hazing culture, she said.
"I thought if I got there and did a good job, it would pay off," she said. "But for women or minorities or anyone else who's an outsider, there's an element of having to prove yourself. You don't have the benefit of the doubt."
To succeed on Wall Street, Godiwalla said, you need to ingratiate yourself with those in power, most of whom are male. If they want to talk baseball, you have the option of learning about what it is they're talking about [Godiwalla used to get scores off the Bloomberg terminal every morning], or come up with something they'd be interested in.
"Relationships become so important," she said. "It's hard to make those relationships because people tend to make them with those they have something in common with. You need to differentiate yourself."
Related: More From Godiwalla at WSJ's Speakeasy
While Godiwalla was able to earn the trust and respect of her superiors, ultimately she decided investment banking wasn't for her. She joined a New York City investment fund in 1999 and then worked on strategic planning at Oxygen, the women's television network. After that, she got her master's degree – for which she wrote a draft of the book -- and did her MBA at Wharton. Since then, she's started her own company that focuses on stress management and travels around the country to different corporations to speak. She has not yet been invited to Morgan Stanley.
Godiwalla wrote the book because she wanted women and minorities to understand what they were getting into when they joined a Wall Street bank. "It's a bitter experience while you're there," she said. " But the reality is we all benefited from it. I got into Wharton because I went there. A lot of the great jobs I got afterward was because of the experience. I just wanted people to know what it was like before they got there."
The book is being published when the issue of women in finance is receiving greater prominence. A recent report in the U.K. details the need for more women at the top of FTSE 100 companies, but stops short of calling for outright quotas.
Godiwalla doesn't believe quotas can work due to the potential backlash. "Someone could think that anytime a woman or minority has a high position is only because they were forced to be promoted," she said.
Quotas can make sense, she said, because higher-ups tend to hire those like them. "When there's a group of 15 guys at the top, they want to find people they can hang out with. When there are women at the top, they can bring more women up the ranks."
Ultimately, Godiwalla doesn't want to discourage people from entering the business. Rather, she just wants them to have some idea what they can expect. "At the time I was applying to banks you couldn't have talked me out of it," she said. "But it would have been helpful to know how to navigate through these issues."
Write to Julie Steinberg