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Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Wall Street survey finds women disheartened

Dissatisfied women like the money they can make in New York's financial center, but they are concerned that they are still not getting equal treatment in the workplace


A survey released last week of men and women at seven major securities firms on Wall Street suggests that many women consider not enough progress has been made to help women advance. Alexandra Lebenthal, now head of a family firm, says there are still "a lot of people on Wall Street who do not see the need to change."


Women on Wall Street have a hard time arguing with the money to be made, but a survey released yesterday of men and women at seven major securities firms suggests that many women are dissatisfied with the extent of progress that has been made to help women advance in the securities industry.

The findings reaffirm an impression by many women on Wall Street that the industry remains inhospitable.

"It's extremely disheartening to see how far we have not come," said Alexandra Lebenthal, who heads her family's Wall Street firm and has been in the business for about 15 years.

Most of the 500 women who responded to the survey conducted by Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization in New York, say they are happy with their jobs, citing challenging work and generous compensation.

But they also describe an industry where it is difficult to get ahead. Two-thirds say that they must work harder than men for the same rewards, and a third report a hostile environment where crude or sexist comments are tolerated, they are treated unfairly or are subject to unwanted sexual attention.

The survey, which is the first extensive look at the experiences of women working on Wall Street, also suggests that many women are making significant sacrifices in their personal lives, similar to the ones made by lawyers and other professionals. Only half of the women surveyed have children, compared with about three-quarters of the men surveyed. In a 1996 survey of senior women at Fortune 1000 companies, about two-thirds had children. Two-thirds of the Wall Street women were married or living with a partner, compared with 86 percent of the men.

While women praise the efforts of the securities firms generally to promote an atmosphere of respect, they say this has not yet translated into a workplace free of harassment or one that can be seen as a true meritocracy. Fewer than half of both men and women said they thought that promotion decisions were made fairly at their firm.

"Cultural change is very tough to make happen," said Sheila Wellington, the president of Catalyst.

Catalyst sent surveys to 2,200 women and men, both in senior and junior positions, at seven firms, the names of which it agreed not to disclose. All the findings were reported anonymously. Some 38 percent, 482 women and 356 men, responded. Catalyst also conducted nine focus groups in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

About a quarter of the women who responded held the title of managing director or higher, with the typical respondent having worked at her current firm for 10 years and in the industry for 14 years. The report is part of the settlement of a sex-discrimination lawsuit brought against Smith Barney, now part of Citigroup, in which women charged that there had been a "boom-boom room" in one of the firm's offices, where male managers would harass female employees.

While the leaders of many Wall Street firms are committed to change, many in their organizations are not, Lebenthal said, adding, "I think there are a lot of people on Wall Street who do not see the need to change."

And only a fifth of the women surveyed say that the opportunities to advance have increased greatly in the last five years.

Given the resources many of the firms are pouring into efforts to diversify their work forces and given the large number of women on Wall Street, the lack of progress is surprising, said Dee Soder, an executive coach in New York who is managing partner in the CEO Perspective Group. "It's gotten much better," she said, "but there is still a glass ceiling with less reason for a glass ceiling."

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