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The gender pay gap in banking: why women say it persists

If you thought men being paid more than women in banking is becoming a thing of the past, then today's revelation that the gender pay gap at Goldman Sachs has in fact expanded to its widest level in six years, will come as a terrible surprise.

Goldman has yet to publish its actual gender pay report, but widely leaked figures suggest that men, on average, now earn 54% more at Goldman Sachs International (Goldman's London office) than women. Back in 2018, that figure was only 50%.

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What's going wrong? The fundamental problem is that women only account for 23% of Goldman's staff for top quartile pay. "We know that we need to do more to increase representation of women at the senior-most levels of the firm,” a spokesperson for Goldman admitted to Bloomberg.

The absence of highly paid women isn't just a problem for Goldman Sachs. It's endemic in the banking industry: at Barclays Execution Services, only 33% of the highest paid people are women. At DB Group Services (UK) Ltd (aka Deutsche Bank), just 21% are. 

One of London's most senior female bankers says the problem is that when banks hire women to bolster their proportion of female employees, they add them to a few specific functions. "All these banks put the men in the big front office roles and then round out their quotas with women in internal functions like legal and HR," she says. "The power all stays with the men." 

At the same time, women who do try to climb the ladder in front office jobs, say they're continuously overlooked for the top positions. "There are many occasions where male colleagues who were more lazy than me were given information and I was kept out of the loop," one female banker told us last year. "We get more scrutinised," another senior female banker tells us. "We seem like a riskier choice, and this becomes more marked when things get tough."

While the junior ranks in banking are full of women, young women we've spoken to also say that senior men have a problem handling this. "Place an older man in a room with a beautiful, bright 24-year-old woman and he's incredibly awkward," one told us. "His instinct is to avoid these situations altogether."

At the same time, young women in banking say older women aren't always good role models. "The senior women in banks are mostly characterless and childless, and it's by choice. They rose to the top in a different environment and they're very oriented towards the men," one told us two years ago. Speaking last week, an equities saleswoman at a bank in New York told us that the most senior woman in her team was all about impressing her (sexist) male colleagues by wearing mini skirts and heels, and that junior women were leaving as a result.

Some senior women say it's wrong to demonize female peers, though. "I find it quite sad that instead of directing anger at the men, women direct it at the women who managed to survive."

Nor do today's senior female bankers think much of banks' efforts to pander to them.  UBS's new series on being "Like a woman" is viewed with derision by some. So too are Deutsche Bank's new menopause pods in the London office. "It's just another way of stigmatizing women while pretending to care," says one female managing director. 

What would really make a difference? Maybe if Deutsche Bank had shown its commitment to gender equality by questioning the virtue of acquiring Numis last year: "They didn't seem to mind that only 6% of the highest paid people at Numis are women," one senior woman observes. 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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