Vampire Squid Speared by Bias Lawsuit

Last Updated Sep 20, 2010 1:47 PM EDT

Must be a blast these days over at Goldman Sachs. While some aspiring masters of finance still want to work there, three former employees have just filed a gender discrimination lawsuit.

Their claims will resonate with the women my firm has talked to as we research ways that companies can make the most of their female talent: being left out of meetings; discovering that you're getting paid less for the same results; and enduring adolescent humor.

There are enough similar stories now filtering out of Wall Street to make me believe the claims in the suit. But the numbers are a different matter. The statistics trotted out as initial evidence of discrimination are not going to prove the case.

The suit claims that women account for only 17% of managing directors. Doesn't that sound horrible? In fact, it's pretty good. According to the most recent diversity survey completed by SIFMA, the securities industry group, women were only 14.5% of all managing directors at the 20 firms that participated in the project -- yes, including Goldman.

Suits like this typically make much of the disparity between programs intended to advance women and the paltry results. Lining up the SIFMA survey results with Goldman's claims on its website (Memo to Goldman: why the heck don't you report some real numbers on your site?), I see that Goldman's programs are pretty much in line with the SIFMA norms.

Everybody claims to measure the success of their diversity programs, typically by counting the number of women and minorities and how they are rising, or not. Interestingly, the survey reported that only 13% of the firms measured the effectiveness of their diversity program at least in part by the "ability to sell to diverse communities."

Therein lies the disconnect ... for the industry and for Goldman's culture. It's easy -- even fun, I bet -- to horse around even if you get the stinkeye from stuffy female co-workers. It's all fun and games till the lawsuits start! But if those insouciant traders had an inkling that they could get even more money by collaborating with their female co-workers, that old-boy culture would die out fast. Goldman's fatal flaw wasn't that it didn't push for the advancement of women. It's that its practices and culture make women the only winners. For women to advance, everyone in the company must share in their success.
Image by Flickr contributor bitmast, CC 2.0