Goldman Sachs Was Like a 'Frat on Steroids,' Says Former Female Employee

There's been some debate lately over how the ladies are treated at Goldman Sachs, given the firm's recent announcement that only 14 percent of its new partners are female. Some dudes hypothesized that women were perhaps too busy with babies and cookies (yep) to make it to the top, while others suggested that maybe, just maaaybe, historically douchey Goldman Sachs isn't the best place to work if you have a vagina.

But hark! A lady speaks! Before she was a writer, Marie Myung-Ok Lee was an editor in Goldman Sachs Equity Research department during the 1990s. She wrote about her experience working in the "frat on steroids"/ "giant man cave" for the Atlantic, and we're just impressed she made it out of there without having a nervous breakdown or attacking someone's balls with his gold-plated paperweight. Some excerpts:

In one Goldman office, in the memos announcing a new crop of incoming female associates, instead of the usual corporate headshot, some joker used different semi-nude pictures of Playboy playmates. It was clearly thought to be clever, instead of puerile and wrong, but when I made noise about it, I was chided by a coworker for being "humorless" and that I probably read Ms. Magazine (I did).

Most of the analysts were men used to getting what they wanted when they wanted and never having their own behavior questioned. Their secretaries (almost all middle-aged white women) were almost wifely in their devotion and were rewarded with huge bonuses at the end of the year, new fur coats and diamonds making the place look like a Gilded Age opera house. Most of the big-name analysts treated us as interchangeable widgets, not learning our names, stomping into our offices while gobbling a sandwich, wordlessly handing us their garbage. Once, an analyst started flossing his teeth in my office and was affronted when I asked him to desist.

For being affronted, I was chastised for having poor social skills, the first black mark in my record (later removed when I challenged it-it actually said in its wording that I was not "submissive" enough). I was already on a kind of probation for breaking an unspoken but ironclad sartorial rule that it was verboten for editors and "above" (it was okay for the buniony secretaries) to wear sneakers in the building-as if wearing dress shoes to walk the mile or two that I did was an option. In fact, it was widely thought that it was a professional responsibility for women to wear heels, the higher the better. The most sartorially admired women wore tightly sheathed skirts and hobbled around on pencil-thin stilettos (I remember at a company Christmas party while the male analysts took town cars home, the junior women walked to the subway, half of them getting their heels stuck in the subway grate).

Read the rest of Lee's piece for more on the firm's sexist, toxic environment, as well as a sad and fascinating description of one high-powered female employee who drank the Kool Aid but still didn't make partner. Her conclusion — that in order to truly succeed at Goldman Sachs you'd "also have to be the kind of person to negate your extra X chromosome, i.e., you'd have to be the kind of person to negate who you really are." — is heartbreaking when you think of all the women who struggled (and still struggle) there and at similar companies and, in the end, got (and still get) chastised for "not wanting it enough" or "pussying out" if they don't make it to the top.

What It Was Like to Be a Woman at Goldman Sachs [The Atlantic]