Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

NYU Stern Finance Society - Blueprint of Action

Research Question: How does gender identity affect sense of belonging and career development in undergraduate finance organizations and the finance workplace? 

I found that there were indeed clear gaps in gender identity within FS, which then affected involvement, feelings of welcome-ness in the organization, and career ideation through lack of representation, misogyny, insensitivity, and lack of mentorship. To address these issues, I recommend a three-pronged approach:

1. Gender Diversity in the Executive Committee
Previous E-comms have consistently skewed towards being predominantly composed of men, as confirmed through the alumni interviews. The average ratio of men to women was recalled to be approximately 60-40. As it stands, currently in FS, the class of 2023 E-comm has a men-women ratio of 75-25, class of 2024 a ratio of 62-38, and the class of 2025 a ratio of 67-33. These disparities have also translated to a similar gender ratio disparity on the E-board, as members are elected by the current E-board and E-comm. As such, the average ratio of the E-board from 2011 to 2022 is approximately 70-30. Given the gender identity disparities in both the E-comm and the E-board, FS must work to create a minimum gender ratio of 50-50 for the E-comm. 

This policy would also have spillover effects during recruiting. One man said that he "knew for a fact that people who were in E-comm would have a better time going through the [investment banking] interview process [because] it's more likely someone will stick their head out for you in the recruiting process." Additionally, the plethora of training, recruiting, and networking resources that are exclusively offered to members of E-comm effectively makes it so that FS actively contributes to and creates the gender gap in finance by having such an imbalance from the very start. 

This recommendation is very feasible as long as the Executive Committee Co-Chairs are willing to support such a policy. As one former Committee Chair explained about the interview evaluation criteria, "One of the first and foremost was just the genuine interest in finance and broadly banking... Second thing was definitely cultural fit, which is if we introduced you to the club and brought you on, would we enjoy hanging out with you? You would have to be a value-add." Both of these criteria, but especially the second one, is highly subjective. Especially in an environment that is already dominated by men, "cultural fit" can at times simply mean whether or not women candidates would be masculine-enough or tolerant of the established "finance bro" culture. As this is also an undergraduate organization, the second criteria would also reflect whether the candidates were already friends with current members and chairs. As one man recalls, "I didn't get in my first year, but then I became friends with a lot of people on board, and I made it my sophomore year." The gender disparity in the E-comm is quite literally a social construct and can be easily remedied if the members desired. 

Lastly, there is also support for such a policy from alumni:
"I feel like for college-wide clubs, having a good mix is pretty important. Guys tend to all think the same, so having more women just brings different perspectives." - former Executive Committee Chair of FS
"Especially when you lead an organization, you see the value of having people with different perspectives. It makes for a more well-rounded organization." - former President of FS

2. Diversity and Sensitivity Training
While all official language on the FS website, newsletters, and any public documents is highly professional, the casual conversations, body language, choice of words, and a variety of other social factors may make the space less welcoming for those who do not identify as men. These subtle cues can actively discourage women and other minorities from staying involved in the organization, further contributing to the gender disparity. These behaviors can also extend into the workplace, further feeding into the toxic "finance bro" culture in the current environment. One man directly touched upon this, explaining that "Given that my undergraduate organization was a feeder for my current workplace, they are extremely similar." As such, FS should host mandatory diversity and sensitivity training so that these issues can be addressed as early as possible before students enter the workforce.

The following interview excerpts from women substantiate the current unwelcoming environment:

"I feel like with a lot of guys in recruiting, they'll be like 'they got it because of the women's program. Nobody said it to my face, but you hear things."
"I've gotten this multiple times before, like, so you know how the majority of banking internships start in junior summer, and a handful of girls get sophomore summer internships? They always say, 'You just got in because of diversity, right?'"
"I personally couldn't stand the upperclassmen that were running it. They were always talking down at us... It was educational hazing that I did not ask for... There was one guy a year older than us who was super condescending."
"I chose to leave because of their culture."
"People will just try to make you sound not as smart as you actually are or question your statements because you're a woman... You always need to back up your answers and look confident."
"In my experience, with senior people I work with, there is that certain level of disconnect. They can't fully relate to me because they're all old white men, and they'll think stuff like 'she might not be able to do that because she's a woman."
"Even if half the deal team was female, an old man would hop on the call and say 'hello gentlemen, what's the deal?'"

The following interview excerpts from men further demonstrate how such lack of awareness contributes to gender disparities within FS:

"Since I'm a male, I did not qualify for diversity programs so I had to do things the hard way."
"Some elite institutions took diversity women that were not as smart just because they were diversity."
"I just think diversity initiatives should not exist."
"If I were a girl, I think I'd be like a doctor. I feel like it's inherent bias, but girls are more caring, and doctors are a better fit."
"The workplace culture is super fratty, but I'm super good friends with my coworkers."
"The industry has existed for many, many years and senior management has consistently been old white males for many years, and business has continued as usual." 
"I don't think gender diversity matters at all because most of the MDs are old white men, no one sees or hears you at the junior level, and your gender identity is not a reflection of your capabilities to do your work."

3. Alumni Diversity 
Lack of women role models in finance was consistently cited as one of the primary reasons why women drop out of finance or choose not to pursue a career in the financial industry at all. While FS does host a Women's Series in workshops, extra effort must be made to include more women-identifying alumni, especially among those who are brought back as guest speakers and for networking events. There is an urgent need to create a greater community of women in finance, as evidenced by the following:

"You know the group I hang out with? Those are the only girls I know in banking."
"I think it's hard for women to speak up in a setting when it's all men."
"When you enter finance, it's a very bro-y culture, very male dominated... Banking and finance roles just suck in general, but what would make it better would be if there were more females in the senior level at banks to look up to... A lot of females get discouraged and want to leave."
"I also think that even when you're a junior woman, it's hard for you to stay because there's not a lot of upper level women to support you."

By intentionally reaching out to more women to be included among the alumni network, FS would offer many young undergraduate women to feel motivated to join or continue in the industry. The presence of role models in the professional world is key to people's career longevity in the field. 

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