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Women hit a wall on trading street

Philadelphia, Aug. 23 (Reuters): Women working on Wall Street say numerous factors, from sexual discrimination to a lack of interest from graduates, have kept their numbers low, leaving one of the industry’s best assets just partly tapped.

Half of the students at law and medical schools are women, but at US business schools their numbers hover around only 30 per cent. That translates into a thinner pipeline of women heading into investment banking, private equity and other post-MBA careers.

In areas like sales and trading, recruiters often pick students straight out of college. But there, too, lie hurdles, because far fewer than half of the undergraduates interested in such careers are women.

“I wish there were more,” said Suzanne Nora Johnson, Goldman Sachs’ co-vice chairman.

Angie Long, who runs J.P. Morgan’s high yield and credit derivatives trading in New York, has been recruiting women to the bank since 1997. But she said that while women make up nearly half their sales division, the number of female trading recruits has risen only slightly.

Women interviewed cited a host of reasons for the lack of enthusiasm, from “men’s locker-room” attitudes to the infamous 90-hour work weeks that deplete their quality of life so greatly even high salaries can’t offset it.

Banks also struggle to keep women who want a better balance between life and work. “It is frustrating when people drop out, and it’s very difficult to get back in,” said Candace Browning, Merrill Lynch’s head of global securities research and economics.

The challenges don’t stop once women land the job ' they’re then forced to assimilate into the hyper-masculine culture still prevalent on trading floors.

“It’s hard for women to find natural mentors in a male-dominated business,” said Ellen Schubert, who runs UBS’ global foreign exchange hedge fund business.

For women who have scaled Wall Street’s heights, that apparently hasn’t been a big problem. They cited few if any instances in which they felt disadvantaged because of stereotypes about their sex.

“The worst offensive elements of the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ have really diminished, meaning people being openly ridiculed or proactively excluded from things,” Goldman’s Johnson said.

Further down the corporate ladder, that sentiment shifts.

Sexual discrimination and harassment suits continue to crop up. Legions of men still visit strip clubs with clients and take all-male golf or gambling outings. And that’s hardly the extent of the problem.

Sources spoke of office chatter laced with sexual innuendo, unwanted advances by superiors, and managers who were fired for patterns of sexual harassment.

To fill Wall Street with more women and improve their working environment, women argued for redoubled efforts at the recruiting level, better mentoring, and more in-house women’s networks.

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