This week, the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis is creating buzz and sparking memories, including here at The Motley Fool. One issue may be running under the radar, though, and it may dis(respect) some of the best minds on Wall Street.
On Wall Street, the financial crisis may have caused a different kind of shake-up than the ones many of us hoped for, or even expected. For one reason or another, many females ended up out of Wall Street's door. Worse, many high-ranking female managers made the first cut -- pink-slip wise -- during the crisis. Apparently, a lot of factors resulted in a diversity drain on the Street.
Recent Bloomberg Businessweek and The Atlantic articles explore Wall Street's female exodus. The Bloomberg Businessweek post gives a striking introduction: "The financial crisis that began almost exactly five years ago marked one of the most thorough purges of women from the upper levels of Wall Street in memory."
Sadly enough, the stereotype of Wall Street's best, most engaged minds may be a largely engrained attitude few would publicly state. How many silently believe that? This past summer, controversy flared when hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones made some comments aloud during what was meant to be a gathering closed to the media. A few highlights: motherhood is a "killer," and, "As soon as that baby's lips touched that girl's bosom, forget it."
The tragedy of losing female investors has fallen on deaf ears for too long. There's nothing wrong with female investors' returns. They certainly aren't worse than men's investing performance, and some studies show they're even much better. Wall Street and regular investors likely have some elements of the art and science of investing all wrong, and women have plenty of advantages.
Analysis from Financial Analyst Journal reveals, "Women's analysts' recommendations demonstrated a better rate of return compared to risk versus the men's." Regardless, an analysis of brokerage firms between 1994 and 2005 revealed that only one in six analysts at all the major brokerages were female.
Where the girls are (delivering returns under the radar)
There's a reason why the Motley Fool is "motley." We embrace many viewpoints and different types of people in our community and subscriber base. As for women in investing, my colleague LouAnn Lofton wrote an entire book on the topic: Warren Buffett Invests like a Girl.
Studies show that many women possess the oft-sought "temperament" Buffett has pointed out makes successful investors. And, of course, Buffett is no fly by-night trader -- he's the most respected modern investor.
Some of Lofton's important points:
- Women deeply research their stock ideas and investments.
- Men trade 45% more than women do, a frenetic habit that actually shrinks their net returns.
- Not to be rude to gentlemen, but women's lack of testosterone is a feature, not a flaw.
Testosterone increases risk-taking behavior. That can nail investment returns, not to mention business well-being. And we do know that the insane levels of risky behavior -- and related groupthink -- helped build the financial crisis.
When it came to all the questions during the chaotic crisis, letting intelligent and talented women slip out of the ranks -- not to mention forcing them out -- was not the right answer.
Setting good examples
More females are taking high-ranking, high-stakes positions, even if overall progress for women has remained sadly slow. Marissa Mayer was brought in as Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), a company that has struggled for years. Earlier this week, the stock reversed a downward trend that existed even before the financial crisis. It has tiptoed above the $30 mark.
Of course, stock price isn't all, and shouldn't be. Mayer also shared some impressive news recently that's a good sign for revitalization of the real fundamental business. Yahoo!'s online presence has recently clocked a 20% surge in monthly users -- a total 800 million. Mayer is showing positive signs about reversing Yahoo!'s fortunes.
PepsiCo's (PEP 0.56%) Indra Nooyi has made visionary moves to evolve Pepsi's business for the long term, and building trends, like healthier food and beverage choices. Regardless, this past summer, Trian Fund Management's head Nelson Peltz agitated in favor of splitting Pepsi's beverage and snack foods divisions, and acquiring Mondelez (MDLZ 0.55%), Kraft's international business spin-off that has experienced financial choppiness. He pushed for the split-up to begin with.
Mondelez, which also happens to have a female CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, has compiled rebuttals to Peltz's recommendations. Pepsi doesn't seem responsive to the idea either -- not surprisingly.
Dissecting the big dis
Obviously some women are leading the charge, revealing their smarts, long-term visions, practical views of risk management, and real-value creation. Although some forces may seek to downplay their temperament for business and investing, the more that join in, the better the future will be.
The Atlantic's in-depth piece digs deeper into reasons why women flee Wall Street. Some reasons aren't even nefarious, but illustrate the complexities of change and progress. Most people know that Wall Street's intensity and pace doesn't always make for a rewarding personal life. That can relate to the strongly male-dominated atmosphere, but also relates to choices involving a better work/life balance.
The article outlined intense pressure, long hours, wheeling, dealing, and networking. Women can face difficulties fitting in as change plays out. Even though some men truly have no personal problem with female colleagues, others may not know how to approach or socialize with their female peers. Sometimes, unfair situations simply involve current realities. Of course, they can change. The thing is, change is difficult to achieve when there's such an understood status quo.
Challenges for all of us
My first response to the articles was anger, and the sadness of societal and cultural unfairness and myopia that fears instead of embraces "difference." Still, I want to believe that, as more women do move forward in formerly male-dominated industries like Wall Street, that more problems will be ironed out, including greater recognition that cognitive diversity makes for robust business and the ability to invest in much stronger companies.
Through corporate governance failures, and management-centric cultures, all shareholders -- of all genders, races, lifestyles, shapes, sizes, lifestyles, and so forth -- are also too often disrespected, whether it's purposely or not. When merit goes unnoticed, we fail; that's why topics like this one are important to everyone, including investors. Eliminating the groupthink, embracing change and forgetting about what supposedly "always worked in the past," and looking at reality, are all important pieces of investing -- and life.
Check back at Fool.com for more of Alyce Lomax's columns on environmental, social, and governance issues.