Closing The Gap

Survey: It's still tough to be a woman on Wall Street — but men don't always notice

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Spencer Platt | Getty Images news | Getty Images

Wall Street and the financial services industry are known for male-dominated cultures.

All of the top banks are run by men. A Catalyst study reports that women account for less than 17 percent of senior leaders in investment banking. In private equity, women comprise only 9 percent of senior executives and only 18 percent of total employees, according to a 2017 report by Preqin. At hedge funds and private debt firms, the numbers are similarly low — women hold just 11 percent of leadership roles.

Why are women so rare at the top of companies in the financial services industry? And are they treated differently as they try to climb the ladder?

Those are the questions we sought to answer through a survey conducted by CNBC and LinkedIn. This look at challenges facing women on Wall Street is the first in a series of surveys aimed at highlighting some of the big issues facing women in the workplace. We polled over 1,000 men and women who work across the financial services industry in banking, capital markets, financial services, investment banking and investment management in the U.S. The survey was conducted between April 18 and 27. Participants were invited on a random basis and self-reported gender.

Here's what we found.

Women report bias that men don't see

Men and women experience their workplaces differently. When asked in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements if they’ve seen sexual harassment and gender discrimination at their companies, 72 percent of women said no, compared with 84 percent of men.

When it comes to the day-to-day decisions of their bosses, women describe environments that are biased against them. Though some men do report observing bias, far fewer of them see it than women do. Women (9 percent) are about twice as likely as men (4 percent) to say that they see their company’s management withhold opportunity or promotion from women. Women (8 percent) are also about four times as likely as men (2 percent) to believe women are excluded from networking and social opportunities, such as after-work drinks or golf outings.

As to whether there’s progress, unsurprisingly, the decision-makers — respondents in leadership positions at their companies of any gender — are more likely to respond that they’re seeing progress (32 percent) than rank-and-file employees (23 percent).

Women — and men — say women are promoted slowly

Nearly two-thirds of women polled say females are less likely than males to reach leadership roles. Only 56 percent of men and 37 percent of women agree that males and females are equally likely to become leaders in their industry. What's holding women back? Almost no one says the biggest obstacle is women opting out of leadership positions. Rather, it comes down to how quickly employees are promoted. Fewer than half of women (47 percent) felt that “men and women are promoted at an equal rate at their companies," and 26 percent of men also identified this gap.

And becoming leadership doesn't make women more optimistic about opportunities available to women. Female managers' responses in the survey were only slightly more optimistic (39 percent) about the pace of change than the responses of women on average (37 percent).

More women than men see unequal pay

While the CNBC/LinkedIn survey was conducted in the U.S., it echoes the headlines from U.K. banks revealing massive pay disparities. Women were paid around half as much as men at the main U.K. investment banking units of J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America, according to data submitted to the British government in March.

Perceptions of pay inequity are widespread here: Only 40 percent of women and 75 percent of men agree that the genders working at the same level are paid equally at their companies.

Equal pay was top of mind for respondents to the survey. Though it wasn’t presented as one of the multiple choice options for solutions to closing the gender gap on Wall Street, a number of women respondents wrote that equal pay for equal work is key to retaining female employees.

Corporate culture is broken, but there are options

About a third of men and women say an unsupportive or biased corporate culture is the biggest obstacle preventing women from advancing. Having more women in senior positions could help: Nineteen percent of women and 12 percent of men say the biggest obstacle is a lack of female leadership. Fourteen percent of women say their biggest obstacle is a lack of mentorship or sponsorship.

And some solutions that were flagged would not just help close the gender gap, but would help all workers. Men and women both point to the importance of a more flexible work schedule as a way to foster a more inclusive environment.

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