There are few constituencies more in need of a sustained market rally than recently-married females in the 28-32 age group in search of positions in finance. Managers faced with continued budget cuts and looming layoffs, including their own, will implement any necessary degree of rhetorical backflips and rationalizations to avoid selecting a candidate that, after enduring the assimilation process, could be lost to maternity leave. This same manager, who may very well be female, will admit after a couple of drinks that this process is brutally unfair and illegal in most states. Unless they’re really stupid, no inkling of this decision making will ever be committed to physical or virtual paper.
There is no way I’m going to defend this – I only point it out as an example of sacrifices that are being made to uphold the primacy of bottom line thinking. When profits represent the only “good”, in periods where they are threatened the achievement of every other type of benefit must be tossed until the pressure declines.
Every ambitious employee in any industry is frequently forced to choose between career goals and adhering to societal frameworks of “winning at life”. The dilemma is best identified with discussions of “work/life balance”, a concept in finance which, like “sustainable alpha” is best grouped with unicorns and bipartisan legislation. In my experience, without exception the individuals emphasizing their skills at work/life balance A) had large underpaid staffs who did all the grunt work and B) were eventually fired. The same bottom line orientation that makes life difficult for 28 year old females is in effect applied by each individual to themselves, requiring the de-prioritization of most, if not all, other factors.
I can hear the “Oh, poor baby” comments from ex-financial readers already. You can save them – no one on the trading floor or in banking feels sorry for themselves. These sacrifices are made by and large willingly in return for the outsized pay checks available in few other industries. Many, and this is an underrated factor, love the adrenaline rush of moving big sums of money around enough that the pay package is an ancillary factor, at least until the pants come down and the rulers come out at bonus time.
The outgrowth of all of this is that the financial services industry is dominated by a specific, narrow personality type that either never considers social benefits at all or considers them a bizarre, misplaced affectation. Yes, the hitters do give a lot of money to charity but anyone who’s attended related functions or been “strongly encouraged” to give to the boss’ pet cause knows that it is just another form of competition, one that is really, really annoying and fraught with potential political disaster for mid-level employees forced to buy a Tom Ford tuxedo they can’t afford.
What we’ve learned from the GFC and its aftermath, I think, is that these people shouldn’t be in charge. There are obvious exceptions, but the most successful participants in finance have been forced to jettison the thought processes the majority of the populace believes make up “being good at life”. It is also entirely likely that the current captains of industry are largely unaware of their dearth of humanity in the same way an obese person is stunned to look in the mirror and discover that they are 100 pounds overweight – like many terrible things it happens by slowly by degrees, thousands of small, seemingly innocuous cheeseburger versus salad decisions. I doubt, for example, Governor Romney thought twice about strapping that poor dog to the car roof (until now, when popularity, not profit, becomes the bottom line) as it was clearly the most practical solution.
There are, it must be said, thousands of incredibly giving, ethical people working in finance. In my experience, however, they are swamped by the cynically profit-seeking and are, while listened to, carefully kept away from the meetings where policy is determined. This “keep the bleeding hearts out” trend is most notable during periods, like now, where revenues are more scarce.
I have no idea how to move the goal posts to allow more of “the better angels of our nature” to rise to prominent positions in finance, or even if it’s possible. I do believe, strongly, that the personality type that typically rises to the top of a global investment bank provides further evidence that the current control over legislation enjoyed by the financial lobby should be brutally curbed.