August 26th, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Confessions of a City Girl: Navigating the Testosterone-laden Financial Industry

filed under Reviews

What does it mean to be a City Girl today? Can City Girls have it all? Barbara Stcherbatcheff (a.k.a. City Girl), who has worked in banking and derivatives in London for over five years, tackles these questiosn and more in her new book called “Confessions of a City Girl.”

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Women occupy a special place in the City of London. There aren’t many of us, but the successful ones have overcome exceptional odds.

I started my financial career bright-eyed, with a suitcase full of hopes. I was looking for fortune, freedom, and maybe even love. And amazingly, I found it all, but not without some challenges.
Over my years in the industry, I’ve worked my way from middle office spreadsheet-cruncher to desk-smashing futures trader to old-school British financial consultant. I also watched the credit crisis grow from the inside, riding the wave from 2005 bonus buoyancy to 2008 “City layoffs” calamity.

And, along the way, I noticed some common challenges we City Girls were facing. At work, there was the harassment, discrimination and subtle exclusion of capable City women from the old-boy clubs of finance. I witnessed the double standards, the unequal pay, and the continuous pressure many women feel to exit the City altogether.

City Girls Struggle to Balance Home and Work Responsibilities

At home, we City Girls face additional pressures, as we are generally still responsible for the lion’s share of the housework. (Astonishingly, City Girls who have husbands or boyfriends also working corporate jobs admit to doing 90% of the cooking, cleaning, and social planning.) Indeed, it is the rare City couple that splits the chores equitably. Who knew that by breaking the glass ceiling, we’d be the ones sweeping up the glass? With pressure at home and at work (especially at work), it begs the question: can City Girls have it all?

Is Testosterone to Blame for the Current Financial Crisis?

Conventional wisdom suggests that women, generally speaking, are more intuitive, and not as aggressive or power-hungry as men. What I believe this means for City Girls is that they tend to be more consistent traders who don’t rack up huge losses as often as their male counterparts. We can test this theory anecdotally: how many ‘rogue’ or disgraced traders do you know who are women? Zero, right? And, so prompts the $700 billion question that has been the topic of much debate of late: Is testosterone to blame for the financial crisis? Of course, this is anyone’s guess but there seems to be some evidence that certain “male” traits appear to lend themselves to the high-risk practices in the industry that many believe led to the current abysmal state of the economy.

So what does the future hold for the City of London? I admit I have no answers. I am not offering up a cure to the world’s economic woes nor am I selling my own investment theories, experiences or pitfalls. I only offer a description of one woman’s adventures working inside a testosterone-laden industry and hope that it will serve as a guide to other City Girls, whether they are thinking of getting in, staying in, or getting out of the financial industry for good.

2 comments

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  2. ec

    There’s always a danger in these discussions over men vs. women in the city/ wall street to neatly package both sides into a binary of temperaments (hubris vs. caution, arrogance vs. timidity), but it would be fair to say that group think was largely responsible. The general culture that condones and even demands ‘male traits’ either suck in the few women on the street or drown out any dissent.