Wall Street wants more female traders, but old perceptions die hard

Yet former female traders interviewed by Reuters describe an industry, which has left behind discriminatory attitudes common only a decade ago, but where women remain heavily outnumbered and can sometimes feel like outsiders in a “boys’ club.”

Simmy Grover, who worked as an equity trader at Morgan Stanley in London between 2006 and 2009, recalled how just over a decade ago one investment bank was ready to offer her a job, but just could not imagine her on the trading floor.

“I remember walking into an interview and I was asked why I had applied for trading because I was a woman and I should be applying to sales.”

Grover, now a researcher at the University College London, said she ended up working as a trader elsewhere anyway. While she said she never felt marginalized on the job, she would sometimes get overlooked by brokers hosting social events- typically involving watching a soccer game and a trip to the pub.

Divya Krishnan, who was a trader between 2009 and 2014 as part of Citi’s program for quantitative analysts, said in her time the bank was already trying to help young recruits, offering networking opportunities and linking them up with experienced female traders.

They told them, she recalls, to be confident and avoid apologizing too much, something she said women tended to do.

But like Grover she found it was harder to fit in after hours. “I was never a sports person, but that was always a topic of conversation. I had to learn that,” Krishnan, who now works for fintech startup Motif, said.

While workplace culture is slow to change, banks focus their outreach in colleges on broadening a pool of potential candidates by dispelling the myth that only math wizards or those with finance degrees can succeed in trading.

“We spend a lot of the time encouraging women who have liberal arts backgrounds to look at this business,” said Amanda Magliaro, a managing director and head of global structured finance distribution at Citigroup.

Magliaro, who graduated as a Japanese language major and holds an MBA in finance, said the efforts, including interview coaching for women joining its internship program, were bearing fruit: “It has improved the numbers.”

Headhunters say, however, it will take time before effects of such efforts show up in banks’ gender ratios.

“Firms would like to have more women in trading and other areas, but there aren’t that many women in the pipeline,” said Ross Gregory, a director at recruitment firm Proco Commodities.