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Although Wall Street is still a "men's world," it is becoming easier for women to succeed there, three investment firm executives said in a forum yesterday.
The executives, all vice presidents with Goldman Sachs and Company, spoke to a group of about 25 students at the Business School about women's issues on Wall Street. During the discussion, the vice presidents tried, in the words of one speaker, to show that Wall Street was not as "unkind" a place as many women imagine.
"I've been pleasantly surprised," said Valerie Harper, one of the executives. "I've had very few problems as a woman."
"I know you hear a lot of bad things about women in investment banking," said Josephine Linden, a vice president who works in Philadelphia, "but I've really had a wonderful career."
Nonetheless, each of the guests recounted incidents of sexism during their years on Wall Street.
Ann Brown, who was the first woman to work in the sales division at one Goldman Sachs office, said that just before she came to that office, a man asked her, "Why should we hire you to sell when you're just going to get married to someone who won't want you to work?"
Brown said that she replied by asking the man why she would want to marry such a person.
Harper said she has experienced sexism, too. At one meeting, she said, a client told her he preferred to deal with men because he could take them to hockey games or tell them dirty jokes.
And Linden said the "country club" atmosphere on Wall Street often excludes women.
"Boys like to play with boys," she said. "The first year I was unbelievably lonely."
But Linden says that now she does not even want to participate in the "country club" atmosphere, because she much prefers the company of her family.
"I don't feel that left out of it...they talk about things I frankly don't care about," she said, adding that women can still be a part of the country club atmosphere if they want.
And Harper said women just have to perservere.
"You pick yourself back up," she said, "It requires twice as much work from you" to win back respect.
But for the most part, Brown said, sexism on Wall St. is not the problem it was several years ago.
"The environment is much younger now...I think it's part of the whole 90s thing," she said.
Harper advised women looking into careers on Wall Street to evaluate the people they will be working with before they take any jobs.
"They [clients] are hopefully enlightened enough to not mind you being there," she told the audience.
As a result, Harper said it is critical for women to visit firms they are considering for employment. And after the visit, she said, women should ask themselves questions like "Did you feel like you were walking by a construction site?"
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