x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Boys' banking club is a blight but be polite if you disagree

There's nothing like a minor "twisticuff" on Twitter to get you thinking about the what ifs of this world.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

There's nothing like a minor "twisticuff" on Twitter to get you thinking about the what ifs of this world.

Nine days ago, I threw out a hypothetical comment on Twitter through my personal account @FelicityGlover.

I had read an intriguing story in TheSydney Morning Herald about Shemara Wikramanayake, a 51-year-old female banker who had outperformed her male colleagues by a country mile and was being touted as the next chief executive of Macquarie, the largest investment bank in Australia.

"Perhaps if women were running the banks in the first place, we wouldn't be in this financial mess," I tweeted, along with a link to the story.

I had a few re-tweets and some positive replies. "Makes you wonder," said one.

But one guy, who doesn't follow me and I don't follow him, wasn't so impressed.

"Why not play the race card, too? Race trumps everything in identity politics," he said.

"Why would I do that?" I replied.

"Why mention gender?" he said.

"I see," I tweeted back, "Are you one of those men who don't like it when it is suggested that women might do something better?"

"I don't believe either gender is better," he said.

"But it's an intriguing hypothetical that women might be better."

"I don't think females would be any less corrupt than males," he added.

And that was it. I didn't see the point in replying any more, so it was the end of my first twisticuff on Twitter. At least he didn't turn into a Twitter troll.

But I have to say, he was wrong.

My point was not about gender politics and it certainly wasn't about race.

It was a hypothetical comment based on what I know about female bankers and their abilities. Their aversion to risk is just one of the many traits that should see them break the glass ceiling of the male-dominated banking world - and tells me they are better trusted to run our financial system.

Melissa Fisher, a cultural anthropologist and visiting scholar at New York University's department of social and cultural analysis, agrees.

As the author of Wall Street Women, published by Duke University Press in July, she is more than qualified to speak on the subject thanks to her in depth research that she started in 1994 on the first generation of female bankers who arrived on Wall Street in the 1970s.

She has been following their progress for years, which resulted in Wall Street Women, a fascinating insight into the discrimination they faced and their fight for advancement in a world dominated by that machoistic boys' banking club that is, unfortunately, a global blight.

A blight not just for women and their banking careers, but because they are ones responsible for the global financial crisis thanks to their greed and need to make a fast buck by making high-risk bets to make the biggest possible bonuses they can.

Their behaviour is endemic - and they are the reason why so many people in this world are struggling to stay afloat financially. And why so few women make it to the top of the finance world, where they should be making a difference.

Which brings me back to my original question: would we be in this financial mess if women were running the banks in the first place?

"There's been this huge debate that has occurred and widened about whether or not women are more equipped by socialisation, or psychologically or biologically wired to be better leaders in finance," Ms Fisher says.

"In my book, I follow the very first generation of women who came into finance and one of the things women talk about is risk.

"They explained to me that one of the reasons why women make better investors is because they tend to be more risk-averse or risk-aware, they are more caring, they are more long-term thinking, they think about value. I mean all the kinds of traits that make for better long-term, sound investing."

And would women have been able to save the world from the worst economic crisis since the Depression?

"I think that had more women been in positions of power together as a group - not just one single woman or two women - but a broad group of women along with other kinds of people with different viewpoints, you might have had a different kind of system in finance in which it was at least a little bit more risk-aware, if not risk-averse," Ms Fisher says.

"It may not have completely avoided the financial mess we are in, but at least it would have avoided the financial cliff that we almost went off."

Today, as those male bankers continue to scramble to fix what they broke, there are very few women involved in the repair of the financial system.

And this is disturbing, says Ms Fisher.

"You have this argument that women are better able to repair, but the system is so male dominated, so risk focused and is reproducing itself for the most part that you don't actually have women in positions in the upper echelons to really make an impact.

"You have individual women working, but not in significant numbers to make an impact. It is disturbing."

What do you think? But be nice if you are going to tweet me about it.

 

fglover@thenational.ae

Wall Street Women is available on Amazon.com and through Duke University Press (www.dukeupress.edu).

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