Financial services is indeed a rough-and-tumble industry — not just because of market ups and downs but because its members — women and, yes, men too — can be reduced to tears by sexism and raunchy jokes made at their expense, as psychologist Melanie Katzman reveals in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
A consultant to business, government and nonprofits, Katzman discusses why male-dominated financial services has been rife with female sexual harassment and why even in the #MeToo era, women are reluctant to speak out when it occurs.
The clinical psychologist, who maintains a private practice in New York City, also opines on money manager Ken Fisher’s crude remarks made during a “fireside chat” at the Tiburon CEO Summit last month and the episode’s fiery aftermath. To be sure, she hopes the fracas will be “a warning sign for the industry,” though not lead to “paralyzing political correctness.”
Katzman then offers suggestions on how to stop bad behavior virtually in its tracks at financial industry conferences.
Founder of Katzman Consulting in 1999, her new book is “Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work” (McGraw-Hill-October 2019). Establishing respect and “making others feel valued” is essential to initially connecting as “fellow humans,” she writes.
The psychologist was a senior fellow at The Wharton School’s Center of Leadership and Change Management, and held faculty positions in psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical Center and the University of London.
Clients of her consultancy include Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and UBS.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the Ph.D., who was speaking by phone from Manhattan. She said that the solution to sexism in financial services, especially bad behavior at industry conferences, lies in men and women working jointly to find a way to curtail it.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: A former Bear Stearns managing director, Maureen Sherry, wrote that on her first day in financial services, when she opened a pizza box, instead of pepperoni slices, she found condoms. But she didn’t report it. Why has humor at the expense of women been rife in financial services?
MELANIE KATZMAN: There’s a lot of nasty joking and inappropriate sexual humor that goes on man to man, and no one is supposed to say anything about it. But it isn’t always funny to the recipient — including men: They’ve got to suck it up, and women feel the same way. I hear from men who feel belittled also. These are rough places [to work].
Please elaborate on the men’s pain.
When I show up at some investment banks, I feel like I’m doing rounds at hospitals that I trained in as a psychologist. I go in, close the door and people start to cry — men and women. So I don’t want to suggest that men are free of some of the suffering that happens in this environment. It’s just that for women, it can cross the line.
A 2018 survey by Source Media Research shows that sexual harassment is highest in the wealth management sector compared to other industries. Is something inherent in financial services that makes women susceptible to being demeaned?
It’s an environment in which preferential treatment is given to people who are making [a great deal of] money. The attitude is that you have to be rational and cool and successful. It makes the things that women are perhaps more wired to do naturally less valued. And there’s the assumption that women who complain are going to be penalized for being emotional: Don’t be a wimp — you’ve got to keep up. So women are reluctant to voice their concerns and [if they do], are often punished either overtly or now even more covertly.
What’s your reaction to the episode last month in which Ken Fisher, in a “fireside chat” at the Tiburon CEO Summit, made crude sexual remarks that prompted financial advisor Alex Chalekian to post a Twitter video expressing his disgust — which triggered a firestorm against Fisher and his firm?
Things happen at conferences [among attendees] that nobody would be proud of in the light of day. But this happened from the stage. I wasn’t there. However, my understanding is that people were silent, and then those who spoke internally were made to feel like pariahs until the outside world pushed in. People feel disempowered at conferences to say anything even though, as in this case, they were bystanders to inappropriate behavior.
What’s the lesson to be learned here?
You want to act in a way that aligns with what you say your values are because if you don’t walk the talk, when you’re exposed, there are repercussions.