No News Is Bad News for Women on Wall Street: Susan Antilla

If you’re curious about how important workplace diversity is to Wall Street, consider the commotion that ensues when it’s time to roll out the red carpet and honor the industry’s inclusion luminaries.

At the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association on Nov. 8, no sooner did an announcer introduce the presenter of an award to Bank of America than about a third of the 700 or so people in the room got up and left.

Sifma, the industry’s trade group, has made a lot of noise about encouraging brokerage firms to move away from the all- white-male model, publicly stating its goals of the advancement of women and minorities, and since 2002 handing out annual awards to its members who promote diversity. When all is said and done, though, it’s still white guys who fill most of the senior positions at financial companies, a reality all those conference attendees on their way to a bathroom break witness at work every day.

A similar race to the rest rooms and refreshment stands resulted at the announcement of the 2009 diversity awards at Sifma’s annual meeting last year, which I figured I’d mention in case anyone was thinking that this year’s exodus was some one- time quirk, like the end result of spoiled halibut served to the group at lunch that day.

Women often are among the first to be shown the door in bad times for the financial industry, and Sifma in its own way mirrored that strategy of forgetting its commitment to women when the credit crisis hit.

Decline for Women

The trade group in 1999 began a bi-annual survey of its members to track the numbers of women and minority employees at all levels, and spotlight the best policies used to promote diversity.

By 2007, the surveys found the portion of women working in the industry declined to 42 percent from 43.5 percent in 1999. Minorities increased to 21 percent from 11.5 percent. Both groups of employees were disproportionately found in jobs outside of the high-paying executive and managing director positions.

The 2007 survey found that 76 percent of the industry’s so- called non-exempt staff, which would include positions like secretaries and clerks, was made up of females. Among exempt (think managing director) positions, 69 percent were men, 5 percent black, and 31 percent women.

The report ominously noted that “women are being hired at rates below their current representation at almost every job level,” which didn’t augur well for how women would fare when the 2009 survey rolled around.

Missing Survey

“All of the information about demographics in this executive report boils down to this,” the 2007 report continued. “From the associate level onward, representation of women and people of color decreases at each higher level in the organization.”

I’d be keen to tell you how all that panned out, but there was no 2009 survey. After sticking to the every-other-year timetable for a decade, the diversity report just didn’t happen in 2009. Yet its existence had been such a bragging point that former Sifma President Marc E. Lackritz testified before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee’s panel on oversight and investigations in July 2006 that the diversity data gleaned from the every-other-year study was part of an effort that Sifma considered “a top strategic goal.”

So where’s the survey? In April, I e-mailed Sifma spokesman Andrew DeSouza about the matter. His reply: “We have not issued a report this year, and I don’t have a timeline of when we will.”

‘Too Much Chaos’

At last week’s Sifma meeting, I asked Diane Grogan, the group’s director of benefits administration, about the survey.

“It was the cost and too much chaos in the industry” that led to there being no diversity information released in 2009, she said.

The cost? I do concede that there was a financial crisis in the works, but for an outfit whose lobbying efforts topped $4 million in each of the past four years, I was hard pressed to process how Sifma had fallen on hard times.

“How much does it cost?” I asked. Alas, such sensitive data isn’t to be shared with reporters. “I’m not sure if I can give the information out,” Grogan told me, suggesting that DeSouza would be better able to answer my questions.

DeSouza e-mailed later that day to say that Sifma was “in the planning stages” to conduct a new survey.

If they’re stalling on this project, you can’t really blame them. My Bloomberg colleague Dawn Kopecki wrote on Oct. 6 that the number of women in finance, banking and insurance in the U.S. had fallen by 537,000 from the second quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2010. That amounted to 12.5 percent of jobs held by women in those industries, compared with a 3.6 percent decline in jobs held by men.

Ten years after Wall Street’s trade association started its feel-good effort to track advancement of its second-class citizens, the news you didn’t hear from Sifma is that there wasn’t a lot of progress to report.

(Susan Antilla, a Bloomberg News columnist, is the author of the 2002 book, “Tales from the Boom-Boom Room.” The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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