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What If Women Ran Wall Street?

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Today, Hirschhorn is working with a portfolio manager who is responsible for trading about $100 million, a fellow whom we’ll call “Ken” because he’s embarrassed to use his real name. Ken is blond and trim, and wears snug-fitting jeans and a watch that looks like it weighs about eight pounds. His forearms are muscled and tan. He sees himself as akin to a professional athlete, a money-producing machine in need of constant tweaking to operate at its optimal level. Hirschhorn is the guy who gives him a rub and a squirt of water when he takes a break from being pounded in the ring.

“Look, I’m good, but I’m inefficient about how I spend my time,” Ken says. “I’m here to try to get better.” He proceeds to vent about various things: the slightly co-dependent, old-married-couple-sounding relationship he has with the trader who works for him, and a fraught investment they made in a finance company that’s in trouble and may be rescued by the government. “It’s so fucking small, it’s almost aggravating to me,” Ken says about the position. “I know we’re going to end up losing money on it.”

“By having you journal every day, are you noticing that you’re more intentional with how you spend your time?” Hirschhorn asks. (I keep expecting one of them to break out laughing, but it doesn’t happen—they are dead serious.) Ken says he doesn’t want to admit to people that he’s writing everything he does down in a notebook, but Hirschhorn thinks it’s an important step in becoming more conscious of his actions, and less likely to get swept up in his emotions. Earlier in his career, Ken says he was consumed by competitiveness, his decisions driven by a desire to beat the guy beside him. “I wanted to not only get money, but I wanted to get style points,” he says. Now, he continues, “who gives a fuck? It might make me right, but it doesn’t make me a good portfolio manager.”

“This guy is very self-aware,” Hirschhorn tells me later. “Usually, it’s a guy who played football at Notre Dame, who drinks beers and plays sports.”

If journaling seems like a long way to go for a trader to get in touch with his feminine side, it’s not the most extreme example. In a bizarre piece of finance history that has entered the realm of lore, a junior trader at the Greenwich-based hedge fund SAC Capital filed a sexual-harassment suit in 2007 against his boss, alleging that he ordered him to take female hormone pills to soften his demeanor and improve his trading. The story is wacky, to be sure, but it wasn’t entirely shocking to Hirschhorn. “I don’t think greed is gender specific,” he says. “But if you ask me whether Long-Term Capital Management would have blown up if there were more women involved in the decision-making process? A woman might have said, ‘Let’s not assume we’ll never be wrong.’ ”

While he was working on his Ph.D. in sports psychology, Hirschhorn got an offer to join what was then one of the largest proprietary trading firms in the country—with 1,200 traders, many of them former sports players—and help them improve their trading. “What was most interesting to me, was that out of the twenty women who were there, five of them were tremendously successful, so the ratio of success for the women was 25 percent, whereas it was maybe 2 percent for the men,” he says. He found that it was easier to teach women when to be more aggressive than it was to lessen the overaggression of the males.

“I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind,” he continues. “I always thought it was the overlooked aspect of Wall Street—there are very few women in high positions.”

Hirschhorn is peddling his ideas about gender and risk to a number of investment banks. “They could hire twenty elite women and mentor and develop them to become super-traders,” he says. So far, he’s had few takers. “Their philosophy is hire 1,000 men, and if three become rock stars, that pays for the whole model.”

It’s perhaps not surprising that one of the first experiments in all-estrogen asset management is happening in a place with nothing left to lose. From her perch as director of Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce, Halla Tómasdóttir watched with concern as the global debt bubble grew and grew. In 2007, she decided to start her own investment company with another woman. “We wanted to put more feminine values into finance,” says Tómasdóttir, now the chairman of Audur Capital. “The financial sector was created by men, 99 percent of the employees are men. It was like herd behavior: They all think the same, they’re all from the same school, with the same friends, the same jargon, the same books. You get very unbalanced as a consequence.”


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