Why Are Wall Street Financial Firms Dominated by Men?

The most recent Census Bureau figures continue to show a disparity in average wages between women and men across all categories, except for personal care and service workers. The median pay for women is 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The greatest gap is in the financial services sector, dominated by Wall Street personal advisors, agents, and securities analysts. So why, in an era when women are graduating from financial degree programs at greater rates than ever before, are they still lagging significantly behind their male counterparts when it comes to salary?

Key Takeaways

  • There continues to be a disparity in average wages between women and men across most categories.
  • The largest gap in pay between women and men is in the financial services sector.
  • Issues that contribute to the pay gap include residual inequality, the climate in Wall Street firms, working conditions, childbirth/childcare, and the 2007-2008 recession.
  • Wall Street will have to implement positive changes that seek to promote women and close the pay gap if any changes are to be seen in the future.

Residual Inequality

As in any historically male-dominated industry, it takes time for change to happen and for women to ascend the ranks to the top tiers of management. Corporate Wall Street CEOs, for example, have been in the industry since the time when there were few women going into the financial services arena. As more young women enter the junior ranks, eventually this wage inequality will cease.

Climate In Wall Street Firms

Although the 1987 movie Wall Street was fictional, it depicted the inner workings of the financial services and investment industries. The truth behind the portrayal of a lifestyle that includes strip clubs, golf course deals, and extravagant parties has been confirmed by many in the industry.

Because Wall Street has been male-dominated for so many years, these "networking" opportunities are limited for women, making their ascension in their companies more difficult. In fact, the census data report shows that women are leaving the financial services industry at a faster rate than they are getting on board. With fewer women advancing in their careers, there is little forward momentum in increasing wages.

Working Conditions

The financial services industry is all about high stress and long hours. The three-martini lunch is alive and well, as is working through the night. For working women who are still the main caretakers of the house and family, this makes it difficult to compete with a man in a similar role who does not have the same responsibilities.

If someone is willing to work 70 hours a week, with an almost infinite schedule of flexibility, they are likely to earn more than an employee who must put limits on work time. Reports of discrimination, abusive conduct towards women, and even sexual assault continue to rise, encouraging women to seek out other industries.

Childbirth and Childcare

Somewhat related to the issue of working conditions is the fact that women are the child bearers. For those who wish to have both a career and children, the reality is that time spent on maternity leave means less time training on the job. This often means a slower increase in wages over time. This is also true of time spent away from the job looking after sick children or parents.

The Recession

Starting in 2008, Wall Street began a massive round of layoffs as it tried to deal with the growing recession and collapse of the financial markets. Statistics indicate that the layoffs affected women more than men. While the return to economic stability is drawing more women back into the financial services sector, tangible and material changes are still to be seen.

The Bottom Line

The financial services sector continues to be in the basement when it comes to wage equity, with no positive changes on the horizon. Until Wall Street begins making workplace and employment standards more women-friendly, women's wages will continue to lag behind as well as any opportunities for promotion. Financial firms will have to improve mentorship programs, institute requirements for female promotion and pay increases, flexibility around parenting schedules, and more, for there to be healthy changes in the sector.

Article Sources

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  1. United States Census Bureau. "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2019." Accessed May 18, 2021.

  2. United States Census Bureau. "Women's Earnings Lower in Most Occupations." Accessed May 18, 2021.

  3. Forbes. "Terminated: Why the Women of Wall Street Are Disappearing." Accessed May 18, 2021.