Paying the Price: Work/life Issues Most Challenging for Women in Investment Banking

finance-wlbalanceBy Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)

Those who’ve been immersed in the world of investment banking for years know all too well that it’s an incredibly difficult, demanding, and time-consuming career path that requires making sacrifices on a very personal level. As if that’s not asking enough of one person, some troubling information has come to light thanks to new research by two of the world’s most esteemed economists, Claudia Goldin, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Development of the American Economy program, and Lawrence Katz, the Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard and a research associate at the NBER.

The study, entitled “Harvard and Beyond,” surveyed 6,500 former Harvard and Radcliff students who graduated between the years 1969 and 1992 and essentially, the economists found that women pay an incredibly high price to be in the finance industry, which is now considered a profession more demanding than medicine or law.

On first read, the report almost sounds as though financial services is one industry hell-bent on not letting women have it all. In the survey, Goldin and Katz found that female investment bankers, for example, who made up for the work they missed after taking time off to have a child, still saw the largest pay decreases.

It also indicates that female investment bankers who took a year and a half off made 41 percent less than their counterparts.

Putting in the Time

The survey also found that occupations with the highest numbers of men also had the highest average number of hours worked, with investment banking and consulting at 74 and 61 hours per week, respectively. Men, who often have a spouse at home who cares for the needs of their children, are able to work very long hours, while women in investment banking often do not have the same luxury, but must put in the same hours to remain relevant at the firm.

What’s often not discussed is the physical, mental, and emotional toll that working such long hours and being away from their families has on female investment bankers. Stephanie Newman, a clinical psychologist based in New York City, has a number of female patients working as investment bankers and oftentimes they suffer from extreme anxiety and depression. “The stress and long hours seem to be worse for the women who have the double whammy of no autonomy and no respect when they report to work,” Newman said. “My patients often complain of being left out of what is tantamount to being a men’s’ club and those who do try to have a family or a life are often relegated to the ‘mommy track’.”

This is something also echoed by Hope Hanner-Bailey, an organizational psychologist and management consultant for Management Concepts, who believes that women who can’t balance their work and personal life equally are at risk for serious mental health problems. She says:

“Maintaining work-life balance – which I prefer to call work/life-integration – is extremely important to a woman’s health and well being because if she does not allow enough time for at least minimal satisfaction at home, she can suffer from a variety of health problems, ranging from sleeplessness to anxiety and depression. She may also be in danger of burn-out or exhaustion. It’s also worth pointing out that women who have little time remaining for themselves are much less apt to exercise or eat healthily. Working long hours doesn’t leave a woman with sufficient time to spend with the people who really matter in their lives, either. This is why they can end up feeling disconnected from the people in their lives who would otherwise keep them grounded and content.”

Facing Hostilities in the Workplace

According to one former investment banker at a big four firm who has chosen to remain anonymous, these experiences were enough to send her packing. The forty-nine-year-old said, “The reason I left the firm was because there was no work/life balance, though they try to present a different story by identifying one or two rare cases. It wasn’t a supportive environment. In fact, one of the lead VPs told me that they do not like to hire women with children for partner tracking; it felt like a hostile environment for me and for my children.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when she couldn’t make a business trip. “My daughter’s school closed down because of snow and I had to do a conference call instead of travel for a meeting, which I was penalized for. Isn’t leaving your young child at home alone illegal? I suffered through constant messages, eye-rolling, and lectures from bosses. I felt harassed and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left,” she said. Before her career began to affect her two children, she decided to leave New York for Pennsylvania and began working for a fast-growing consulting firm that gave her the flexibility she needed to be a part of her children’s lives.

Another female investment banker, who also chose to remain anonymous, had just finished what basically amounted to a “48 hour work day” with breaks here and there for a shower and a few meals when we spoke. Being a single woman without children, one would think that it’s made her life in investment banking easier, but it’s actually presented a different set of struggles.

The demanding schedule and long hours have actually hindered her from meeting a potential partner and starting the family she wants. It has also caused her to lose important friendships. “I really think that banking places an unfair burden on women,” she said. “Female investment bankers often suffer for their professional choices, especially when it comes to relationships. Many men don’t want to be involved with an investment banker; I’ve had several men break things off because I worked too much. Not only was it impeding upon the relationship, but they simply weren’t okay with me working substantially more than them. On a broader note, the fact that my job is both consuming and unpredictable often means I end up breaking plans with friends. I’ve learned that if you do this enough, they’ll stop calling you entirely.”

Nothing could be more frustrating than working your way through years of school, making your way to a top firm as an investment banker – which is a major feat for women in the first place- and then realizing you basically have to give up your life to be successful.

Advice: Be Prepared, Make a Plan

This is why Goldin advises students considering investment banking to go in with eyes open. “For the most part you choose a sector because of your passion, not because of work/life balance. Within any sector people assume that they can find some choice and some accommodation, but if the field they are considering is finance, they may want to weigh those issues more carefully.”

But what about women who’ve already entered the field and feel as if they’ve gotten lost in the shuffle? Bailey believes a balance can be had if women are willing to seriously assess their needs and do something about them. “I recommend joining a support group for working women,” she said. “Many women find tremendous comfort in venting with like-minded people or talking with a professional.”

She continued, “Secondly, I would urge these women to start communicating with their spouses on a daily basis – if they don’t already. It is critical that a woman and her spouse become a team that can constantly provide backup for daily responsibilities such as housework and childcare.

Finally, understand that when there is a will, there is a way. Women need to plan their weeks to include ‘me time.’ If they don’t do this on a regular basis, continuing on will prove to be incredibly difficult.”

0 Response

  1. Avatar

    Wow — As depressing as this information is, it also is incredibly unsurprising overall. It’s hardly news that women get stuck between a rock and a hard place when we choose professions in finance or other male dominated arenas – we have to choose between the families we have (or want to have) and being able to do as much as the next guy… who usually has a wife who isn’t in this career who is able to stay home or leave the office to get the kids.

  2. Avatar

    i myself been a banker often suffer from this guilt of not being able to be with my kids for most part of the day.The atmosphere we are working in is highly stressful and mentally n physically exausting too.This makes me wonder at times if its really all worthy to be called as a professional woman,to make money at the cost of your personal life n health.Banking happened by chance to me.And in the absence of any other alternative to work upon,i m continuing n not wanting to loose this job n sit home.But my heart is not just into banking.