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The hidden forms of gender discrimination in investment banking

If you’re a woman working in the male-dominated financial sector, you’ve probably experienced first-hand in the workplace. You’ve noticed that you face different pressures and are held to different standards than your male counterparts.

And your empirical evidence is backed up by plenty of research. There are ample studies which have established that in order to receive equal recognition at work, women have not only to match but outperform their male colleagues.

What you may not know, however, is that this discrimination goes beyond the confines of your office. It’s not just your boss or your coworkers who are holding you to unfairly high standards. It’s the whole industry.

Subconscious biases

A recent study by researchers from Yale and Columbia Universities sheds light on how financial professionals’ perception of women working in the investment sector is less favorable than that of men. In the study, buy-side investment professionals compared more than 3,500 different investment recommendations to buy or sell a particular stock from more than 1,500 professionals.

The study had two parts:

  1. After comparing recommendations, the participant clicks on recommendations most of interest to them learn more.
  2. The participant reads more detailed information in support of the selected recommendations and provides an evaluation of each, using a five-point scale.

In the investment industry, the decision to buy or sell should be exclusively performance driven. However, the study found that gender bias played a role in participants’ decision-making process. In the first stage, participants were 25% less likely to click on a recommendation by a professional whose name seemed female – even if her recommendation was high-performing. The only scenario under which women received the same number of clicks as men was by out-performing the men – offering a high-performing recommendation alongside average-performing recommendations from men.

In stage two, however, the researchers found no real difference in the way recommendations were evaluated.

The findings of this study suggest that gender bias can influence first impressions surrounding quality and performance expectations. However, this bias is reduced when pertinent, supporting information is provided.

Lessons for the workplace

The results of this study have applications to the job seeker. As one co-author of the study suggests, it would be helpful for employers to remove gender-identifying information when evaluating job applications – in order to prevent conscious or subconscious bias. In addition, job candidates from marginalized groups should provide as much supporting, performance-based information as possible in applications and interviews.

It’s also worth reinforcing that gender-based discrimination with regards to one’s employment is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If you have faced such discrimination with regards to your hiring, termination, demotion, promotion or other opportunities, it’s worth consulting with an employment attorney about your recourse under the law.