The good news is that in an effort to repair decades of gender inequality in the financial-services industry, Goldman Sachs is making a push to bring more female programmers into its ranks.
The bad news is that the way the bank is wooing female workers is with nail files and vanity mirrors.
DealBook's William Alden found an Instagram posted from a Goldman-sponsored Women Engineers Code conference at Harvard, showing the swag the bank gave out to conference attendees: Goldman-branded mirrors and nail files. “Not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping,” wrote the poster.
Goldman quickly backtracked, saying in a statement, “We are strong supporters of efforts to recruit and retain women in technology. We apologize if the gifts gave anyone offense."
To its credit, the financial industry has come a long way since its early days where sexism is concerned. Once, job applicants at investment banks were asked questions like, “When you meet a woman, what interests you most about her?" (This is a real question, taken from the application to Merrill Lynch’s 1972 brokerage trainee class. The correct answer, astoundingly, was “her beauty.”) And banks now hold sexual-harassment seminars for incoming analysts that advise them against, say, hitting on co-workers, or holding client meetings in strip clubs.
Still, as Goldman's ham-fisted recruitment effort shows that the progress Wall Street has made on the gender equality front is a long way from complete. As of today, Goldman's 12-person board has two women on it, and its 30-person management committee counts three female executives among its members. (What's sadder is that by Wall Street standards, these numbers are actually pretty good.)
To Goldman, it may have seemed uncontroversial to provide feminine swag at an event for female coders — especially if, as an unnamed source told DealBook, "the event’s organizers encouraged Goldman to bring goodies that would appeal to a female audience." But the legacy of gender-based exclusion in finance has made even these seemingly anodyne gestures loaded with meaning. Sometimes, the messages given to women in finance are subtle — I went to one Women on Wall Street conference where the normal business conference provisions of crudités, chicken skewers, and beer had been swapped out for Chardonnay and cake pops — and sometimes, they're much more overt.
Historically, Goldman's nail-file faux pas ranks fairly low on the list of finance-industry gender offenses, and it's notable that the bank is making a special effort to recruit female programmers at all. They're clearly interesting in diversifying their ranks, as both a personnel move and a social statement. (When Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In came out last year, one of her first book tour stops was at the bank.)
Silicon Valley has struggled with gender issues for years. (It's an odd coincidence that DealBook's story came on the same day as the tech-industry's female-focused Makers Conference.) And there will be more thoughtless, embarrassing slip-ups as Wall Street tries to correct its own gender imbalance. Goldman's latest gaffe is a good reminder that the work isn't done, on either coast.