What women employees say about Goldman Sachs’ culture


Goldman Sachs' settlement of $215mn in a gender discrimination lawsuit served as a reminder of the bank's problematic history with women for past and present female employees. The settlement prevented a chance for a useful airing of the practices that continue to plague the Wall Street firm just weeks away from trial.

 Jamie Fiore Higgins, one of Goldman's most senior female executives before she quit in 2016, believed that behavior could have been exposed but now the bank has written a check. Despite some progress, current and former female Goldman employees still perceive that the bank is grappling with challenges outlined in the 2010 class action lawsuit, such as the belief that starting a family can hinder women's careers more than men's and the lack of women in leadership roles. The Financial Times interviewed over a dozen female Goldman employees to gather their experiences working for the bank. 

According to a few female employees, Goldman Sachs' compensation was biased towards men. One woman who recently left the bank stated that if she wasn't a mom, she would have been better compensated. She also mentioned that most of the men she interacted with had wives who didn't work. Another female employee currently working at the bank said that although Goldman promises women senior leadership roles, nothing is done about it. The women interviewed felt that the bank's culture remained less accessible to women who weren't interested in sports, and speaking out on certain issues could still damage their careers. They also faced challenges interacting with senior men in the same casual way that male colleagues at their level could. Although Goldman Sachs announced a gender discrimination payout, one of the biggest in US corporate history, the women felt that the bank's culture was still not inclusive enough for women. While female employees are better represented in Goldman's junior ranks, retaining them as they become more senior is a challenge for the company. Goldman's struggle to build a more diverse workforce is a reflection of trends in the broader financial services industry. Women remain under-represented in the financial services industry, particularly in senior management roles. The industry's culture of round-the-clock work is also a challenge for women, which they feel often impacts them more than men. Despite Goldman's efforts to promote diversity, the women interviewed feel that there is an industry problem and a lifestyle problem. 

According to a female employee at Goldman Sachs, career progression for women at the bank is more about opportunities and support. However, there are very few women at the top, especially those who run businesses. Some women who lead Goldman businesses include Kim Posnett, who was recently promoted to head the investment banking tech, media, and telecoms group, and co-head of the private wealth management business Meena Flynn. The legal case against Goldman dates back to 2005 when Cristina Chen-Oster resigned from the bank after alleging consistent and systematic discrimination. Along with two other former employees, she built a class-action case with more than 2,800 participants, alleging that Goldman's performance evaluation practices of "360 reviews" and "cross-ruffing" indicated ingrained bias against women. 

The lawsuit also alleged that women's career prospects were diminished after returning from maternity leave and that Goldman managers had unchecked discretion over how they assigned projects. In response, Goldman addressed some of the allegations, including repurposing 360 reviews to focus on professional development. Goldman also committed to continuing several policies and agreed to hire an economist to identify gender pay gaps for the next three years. While Goldman offers industry-leading benefits that support its female professionals, some women at the bank are skeptical that real change will be felt quickly. Despite Goldman's efforts, the bank has a long way to go to promote diversity and inclusion, particularly in senior leadership roles. 

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