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Cover of the book 'Wall Street Women' by Melissa S Fisher
Cover of the book 'Wall Street Women' by Melissa S Fisher

When the glass ceiling nearly broke

The Life: Book review: Melissa Fisher's Wall Street Women documents the careers of the female pioneers in the world of finance.

After the financial crisis of 2008, the women of Wall Street found themselves in a contradictory situation.

Academics and journalists asked whether the world of finance would be in such a mess if more women had held senior leadership positions rather than the "rich, white middle-age guys" who destroyed it with their greed and risk taking.

The crisis seemed to offer the opportunity for women to assume a bigger role in directing and repairing the industry.At the same time however, senior women, including three women believed to be on the brink of securing chief executive posts, were abruptly fired: Zoe Cruzat at Morgan Stanley, Erin Callan at Lehman Brothers and Sallie Krawcheck at Citigroup.

The dismissals shattered the dreams of the first pioneering generation of women on Wall Street that one of their own was about to become the first female boss of a major financial firm.

That first generation of women - many of whom were coming up towards retirement when the financial crisis erupted - began to fret about leaving Wall Street "without leaving a legacy". Around that time, the academic Melissa Fisher met Constance Burk, one of the first women on Wall Street. Ms Fisher had started following such women for her academic research in the mid-90s and had continued to track the careers of the elite bunch that became very successful in what had been - and in many ways remains - a very male profession.

"Maybe we need to get everybody together and sort of figure out next steps," Ms Burk suggested, referring to her female peers. And so in 2010 many of those pioneers met to discuss their past, present and future.

This book tells their stories.

It touches on feminism, networking groups, mentors, meritocracy in the markets and the concern now held by many of the older generation that the younger generation of women are complacent and have an attitude of entitlement.

lgutcher@thenational.ae

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