Monday, May 21, 2007

Fingernails that Shine Like Justice

The Financial Times published a front page article this past weekend on how investment banks are trying to manage their way around the current shortage of investment bankers—I kid you not: it's true—by attracting former i-bankers of the female persuasion to rejoin their firms.

It turns out that there aren't enough worker bees to process all the sausage being pushed through the financial market meat grinders right now, and the (male) powers that be have realized there is a vast unexploited untapped group of lonelyhearts trained finance workers out there just waiting by the telephone for Big Strong Silent Bank to call:
"Financial institutions are finding there is an enormous talent pool of women out there and they need to find a way to give them a second shot at ambition"

says one yenta source. Supporting the decision of these poobahs to bolster the distaff side of their organizations is the dawning realization that a growing number of their actual clients happen to be women, as well. Who knew?

The scarcity of women in investment banking seems to be mirrored quite faithfully across the principal-agent divide in private equity, as a recent article in Portfolio magazine reported. The testosterone concentration in private equity seems to be easily explainable, however, as a by-product of the scarcity of women at investment banks, which have typically comprised the bulk of the farm teams for PE professionals. However, why the fairer sex should have remained a stubbornly small minority of i-bankers, after a couple of decades of banks trying rather heroically (in their eyes) to increase their penetration, remains somewhat of a mystery, at least to me.

Back in the Dark Ages, when Yours Truly took on the yoke of indentured servitude, there were generally only two kinds of women in investment banking: personal assistants, and the well-coiffed wives waiting at home to hand the Master of the Universe a dry martini when he strode in half-soused from the 8:14 to Greenwich. (Many of the former, of course, hoped to transform themselves into the latter with a carefully planned indiscretion at the office Christmas Party, but that is another story.) The professional women I met who worked in the industry were very few and far between, and they tended to oscillate between the two extremes of shellshock and hysterical aggression. In other words—except for the Chanel suit and the higher vocal register—it was hard to tell them apart from the men.

But over the past couple of decades, I have witnessed and participated firsthand in sustained and determined efforts to increase the number of women recruited into investment banks, and it is true that the number entering each year in first-year analyst and associate classes has increased markedly from my youth. However, what is also true is that very few of these women stay. The ones I know who do genuinely seem to enjoy their work, and they can cut the balls off a charging rhinocerous (or CEO) with an indenture with the best of them, all the while making their doltish male colleagues think impure thoughts about their pantyhose. In other words, I am of the opinion that smart, aggressive women have a distinct advantage over men in investment banking. Why, therefore, aren't there more of them?

I will venture a short distance onto politically incorrect thin ice and suggest the reason is that—for whatever reason—most women just do not like investment banking. The other reasons I have heard offered for their scarcity just do not wash, based on my experience. They do not get paid any less than their male peers—although, like every one of their male peers, they are each convinced that they personally get screwed in compensation discussions. They do not suffer from the (demonstrable) lack of potential female mentors, for the very reason that no-one in investment banking ever finds a mentor they can trust for more than one bonus cycle. They do not face anywhere near the kind of sexual harassment that they used to, but they do face the same kind of cruel, relentless, insensitive abuse that their male colleagues do, from superiors as well as clients. (If you are looking for a profession where people like you and you can easily make friends, you are in the wrong zip code, my friend, male or female.) And every co-head of investment banking on Wall Street or elsewhere loves a banker who can make money, regardless of their character, creed, or personal plumbing. There is a big fat bonus waiting for every ruthless, aggressive, and talented i-banker out there, even if (s)he is a three-headed, purple-skinned hermaphrodite with bad breath.

And don't tell me that babies and family are any barrier to a career in i-banking, either. I have one too many true stories of female managing directors screaming negotiating instructions for a live deal into a cell phone from the hospital delivery table to buy that one. There is absolutely no reason on earth why a woman can't be just as much of a heartless, disconnected, absentee parent as a man. She just has to want it enough.

So there it is, why most men in the business believe there aren't more women in investment banking: most women just don't want it enough. Now, whether it is something you should want enough to make the sacrifices required is a personal decision each man or woman needs to make on his or her own. I would simply observe that most of the women who do stay are pretty kick-ass good, and just like any industry investment banking can use all the talent it can get.

So, come on, girls: jump on in. Investment banking needs you.

I want a girl with a mind like a diamond
I want a girl who knows what's best
I want a girl with shoes that cut and
Eyes that burn like cigarettes

I want a girl with the right allocations
Who's fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack
She's playing with her jewelry
She's putting up her hair
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnng jacket......

I want a girl who gets up early
I want a girl who stays up late
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity
Who uses a machete to cut through red tape
With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass

She is fast, thorough
And sharp as a tack
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnng.... lonnng jacket

Na na na na na na ...

I want a girl with a smooth liquidation
I want a girl with good dividends
At Citibank we will meet accidentally
We'll start to talk when she borrows my pen

She wants a car with a cupholder armrest
She wants a car that will get her there
She's changing her name from Kitty to Karen
She's trading her MG for a white
Chrysler LeBaron

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnggggggggg jacket

Na na na na na na ...

— Cake, "Short Skirt / Long Jacket"

I'll take my martini with two olives, thanks.

© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.