Heather Mulahasani joined Goldman Sachs’s London office as an analyst in 2000. As a young woman, she was in a minority. “My class was definitely not 50/50. I could count the number of women on the fingers on one hand.”
Her senior colleagues’ attitude was: “You’re a woman; you’re a little bit different.” She says: “They weren’t 100 per cent familiar [with] how to deal with that.”
So Ms Mulahasani was introduced to other women at the company in the hope that they would guide her career. “They found me a buddy or a mentor, an associate in another division, who had been there for three years.”
Those efforts signalled to the young Ms Mulahasani that there was “growing and strong awareness” of the gender inequality problem at the bank.
She says Goldman has been trying to tackle the gender gap ever since: first at junior levels to ensure a greater pipeline of talent, then to promote more women to senior positions. This has included not only leadership training for high-potential female bankers, but also arranging for them to spend time with senior leaders for mentoring and sponsorship.
Last year, Ms Mulahasani was made a partner. In 2016, Goldman appointed more women to the rank than it had done before: 19 out of 84 partners — or 23 per cent of the class. This took the bank’s overall female partner population to 16 per cent of the total, up from 14.6 per cent previously and the highest percentage yet.
Partner is the company’s most senior position. Employees work their way from analyst to associate, to vice-president then to managing director (in 2015, the last round of appointments, 425 employees were made managing directors). Partners are selected from the ranks of managing directors every two years.
The banking sector as a whole has lagged behind other industries when it comes to appointing women to senior positions. Last year, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, said: “For too long, results have fallen short of good intentions.” William Cohan, author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, says banking “is still an old-boys’ club. Banks give lip service to [diversity] but the rewards go to macho behaviour”. One former Goldman vice-president prefers to describe the culture as “cut-throat” rather than macho.
While Goldman is proud of this latest round of promotions, the bank has some way to go. Research published by the Financial Times found that only 21 per cent of senior positions were held by women, below the average of 25 major international banks, which was 24 per cent. In recent years, Goldman has contested a number of gender-discrimination lawsuits.
Sally Boyle, international head of human capital management at the bank, who was made partner in 2010, acknowledges that more progress must be made. Yet Goldman regards the recent boost to female partnership ranks as significant, and a result of concerted attention to training, sponsorship and networking programmes.
Ms Boyle also points out that efforts were made to promote women working in revenue-generating divisions. If the only female role models are from legal or human resources departments, she says, it signals women will thrive only if they escape mainstream business pressures. Staff in the legal and HR divisions have greater flexibility on work hours.
Goldman does not set targets for women in senior positions, however, and defends its position.
“The worst thing you can do for women is to promote them too early,” says Nishi Somaiya, head of private capital at Goldman, who became partner in 2016. “If the firm was focused on the numbers game women could be promoted too early . . . If you put women in too early [to fill a quota] they will fail.”
Nevertheless, Ms Boyle, who has worked at Goldman for almost 20 years, first in the legal department as an employment lawyer, insists there is evidence of progress. After an effort to increase the number of female graduate entrants over the past 10 years, the challenge was to convince male colleagues to take gender diversity seriously. “Making sure that men understood that there are challenges that women face that are different” was a priority, she says.
Men are more likely to seek other men as sponsors, says Ms Mulahasani. It can be hard for a junior female to request that a senior male sponsors her.
Ms Somaiya says senior female role models are one of the most important factors for encouraging junior women. “[Women] look for other women who look like them. A male joins a firm and he’s inspired to progress because he sees other men.”
Motherhood can be a tricky inflection point in women’s careers at the bank. Goldman has made efforts in recent years to improve how line managers deal with women returning from maternity leave. “Our male managers didn’t really know how to handle it. There was no malintent; they were anxious. They didn’t know what to say,” says Ms Boyle.
In the London office, a childcare facility opened in 2003. Today it offers back-up help to staff and some permanent places for children between the ages of three months and three years. Ms Mulahasani used it for her first child.
“We were lobbied by some [senior Goldman] women, who said it would be very helpful if ‘you could provide some permanent childcare places so that we can have our children close to us’,” says Ms Boyle.
Ensuring that the company grooms its employees is one way the bank is trying to get women into senior positions. Kate Richdale, co-head of investment banking in Asia ex-Japan, recently told the FT that training is important. “There’s very detailed mid- and year-end reviews as you move up the ranks. There’s training which we take incredibly seriously.”
Poaching from competitors is another. Yet this has proven tricky, says Ms Boyle. She has observed that if a sales job in the securities division comes up, they could call four men in similar positions in another bank and they would be interested. Women, by contrast, prevaricate.
“Women are more conservative, particularly women who have had their families [while working for their existing employer],” she says. “They feel some loyalty towards the organisation because they’ve had a couple of maternity leaves. They’ve perhaps got their own little bit of flexibility. They’ve got a manager that understands them.”
It is not that women lose their ambition, says Ms Mulahasani, but rather that they worry that they might jeopardise a working life that works for their family.
And there is still pushback from some male employees, says Ms Boyle. “Every now and again, we have some [man] say: ‘Why don’t we have this network?’ Our response is: ‘Just look at the numbers. There is still a big gap between how many male partners and managing directors we have and how many female. So don’t you worry.’”
The new competition
Today, the competition for banking talent is very different compared with a generation ago.
In times past, Goldman’s biggest rivals were other banks, such as JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Now, says Ms Boyle, “we’re worrying about tech firms, small entrepreneurial firms”.
It was easier to attract and retain the best people before the financial crisis, she adds. “Actually our managers and leaders didn’t have to give a great deal of thought to managing, leading, inspiring, motivating people because the very nature of the business and the growth of the business did that for us.”
According to Ms Boyle, the changing face of the competition has helped to put pressure on the bank to develop female talent.