A New World
When I entered the workforce for the first time as a summer intern on Wall Street, I felt like I was in a different world. In college, if I wasn’t doing well, I could just study more; at work, I didn’t have an easy path to success. Instead, people were focused on my social skills, whether or not I asked good questions, and how good I was at thinking of new ways to earn the firm money. I was expected to speak in meetings even if I had nothing to say; otherwise, I was considered quiet. The business concepts I learned weren’t particularly challenging: I had a much harder time figuring out the social norms of the workplace. It took me a while to navigate the different standard you were held to at work. You couldn’t just be smart—you had to be smart and outgoing and creative.
Asian women generally are stereotyped as being good at math, quiet, and not very exciting socially. I actually was good at math and was quiet initially because I was intimidated. However, I believe that others’ perceptions of me as an Asian woman caused them to consider me quiet long after I began to speak up more at work. After two years, I would still get comments in my annual review that I was quiet, even though by that time I was fairly outgoing at work. A few male colleagues, whom I thought were quiet, did not receive similar feedback.
Females in Finance
In positions at my firm where the people work fewer hours, the percentage of women is probably 40 to 50 percent. The percentage of senior-level investment bankers who are women is much smaller—maybe 25 percent. Trading roles are heavily dominated by men, while sales roles are dominated by women.
Being a woman perceived as quiet was occasionally beneficial for me because I almost never got yelled at. There was one senior-level manager in particular who was famous for yelling at analysts. I worked with this man several times and he never yelled or even got frustrated with me. Rather, he would point out my mistakes in a direct, but calm, manner. I can think of many men who would appreciate it if their managers took a calmer approach with them.
I have found that all of the people I work with are extremely professional and everybody has so far treated me with respect, especially in the workplace. In social situations, I’ve seen some people act inappropriately towards women, but I try to avoid those situations. For example, I once went out with a group of colleagues after work and saw a man in a senior-level position flirting with a younger woman in a more junior position. In such situations, I typically stay for an hour, have only one drink, and leave.
Planning for the Future
I know that when I have children, I don’t want to be working more than the standard 40-50 hours per week. In finance, that is very difficult to find. I’ve already started to go down a path that requires fewer hours by switching to a new group within my firm. I felt that my decision was uniquely female, in that my reasoning behind the change was partially related to my desire for a better work-life balance when I have a family later on. However, even in my new position, the hours are longer than what I would want when I have children. I have seen older women in finance have trouble balancing work and family. A woman I used to work with waited until her mid-30s to have children; she often stayed late at work—until 10 or 11pm—even though she held a senior position in the company.
My advice to women starting out on Wall Street would be to be yourself. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of trying to be more like the people around you—it seems like an easy short-term solution to success. But at the end of the day, you can’t be happy (or successful) if you are trying to be someone else. So in every decision, you should ask yourself, is this really who I am?
*Name has been changed.
—As told to Jessica Gross, a writer based in New York City.