Could Women Have Avoided The Financial Crisis?

I’ve got to admit, this post has been a long time coming, and not just because I’ve been dying to weigh in on the Goldman Sachs story, on financial services reform, and the ongoing economic realities of living through and in the Great Recession.  But this post has been a long time coming because, like many of the earlier Hegemommy posts, it represents a delicate balance of personal and political and has taken a while to hash out to make sure it became something more than mere projection.

First off, I’ve put off diving right into this story because I wanted to let the news cycle unfold a bit.  First we heard of the investigation and fraud charges by the SEC in connection with Goldman’s crappy financial products.  Then we heard of extensive shareholder suits.  And then came news the Justice was getting in on the action with a criminal investigation of its own.  As someone who litigated in the world of both regulated and unregulated financial services products, all I can say is, about time.

But that doesn’t make for an interesting post, and really, it’s not where I keep going with this story.  That because this story, much like the industry at the center of it, has been dominated by the boys.  They sold the crappy products, made the misleading statements to shareholders (sometimes in the form of ommissions of material fact), and they have been the ones, by and large, reporting on the fallout of the near collapse of the economy.  Which leads me to wonder, if the ladies were in charge, would we be in this mess?  My short answer: no.

And my long answer is no also.  This isn’t just because some social science suggests that women are inherently less risk-adverse than men (a conclusion I have a hard time swallowing at times), but more because the environment of investment banking, much like the environment of private legal practice, is an eat-what-you-kill world where accountability starts and stops with “me”.  When you have no accountability you have no fear.  And when you have no fear you’ll screw whoever you like, consequences be damned.

The ever-brilliant Joanne Bamberger gives a great insider perspective on just why Wall Street lacks this fear.  Read it.  For women who provide the bulk of the caregiving in this world, either voluntarily or involuntarily, this is a foreign world because caregiving and fear go hand in hand.  Not in a paralyzing, smothering way, but in a way that makes one aware that their actions live beyond the immediate rush of a good sell or a winning brief.  Create a work environment that views accountability as a weakness and you create a work environment hostile to women.  It’s as simple as that.

Which explains why there’s such a retention problem of female talent in both the worlds of private banking and private practice.   God knows it is in large part what drove me out of practicing law.  So this story hit a nerve because it re-exposed a part of that time in my life that I’ve not totally made peace with–that idea of “what if” me and my countless other female collegues stuck it out.  Would we have changed the environment or would we have just become like all the other countless women in corporate drag playing a boys game by boys rules and too scared, beat down, or something to suggest for a minute that profit and common-good do not have to be mutually exclusive philosophies?  And if we had, could this whole mess have been avoided?

2 comments to Could Women Have Avoided The Financial Crisis?

  • [...] every woman is able to influence the dominant values, system dynamics and overall situation in an [...]

  • Thank you for the link. Your BP post brings up the excellent point that women have the ability (and I would also argue the responsibility) to influence and change the dominant values and systems in which they exist. Sadly, we don’t see that as the case always (WellPoint insurance is an excellent example of misplaced female appropriation of repressive dominant cultural norms). But whether it is BP, Goldman Sachs, etc… the key idea remains the same– accountability– an idea which does seem to have a gendered component to it.

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