6 damning allegations against 'boys' club' Goldman Sachs by its female employees

Former Goldman Sachs employees are planning to file a class-action lawsuit complaining about alleged discrimination against women by the bank.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Jul 2015

Judging by the kind of stuff caught by @GSElevator (which, as we now know, wasn't just captured in Goldman Sachs elevators, but in various investment banks), it's hardly surprising that a group of former employees has accused the Vampire Squid of a 'boys' club' atmosphere.

What is surprising, though, is the strength of the allegations made by a group of women, including former vice president H. Cristina Chen-Oster, against the bank, in a brief seeking a class-action lawsuit filed yesterday. The suit has actually been going on for a while - but yesterday it went from just Chen-Oster by herself to a class action.

The case, which Goldman reckons 'lacks merit', alleges that the bank paid female workers less, that women were 'sexualised' and that men were given more promotions.

In (heavily redacted) court documents filed yesterday, the women allege:

1. Goldman maintains a 'boys' club' atmosphere

According to the documents, 'binge drinking is common and women are either sexualised or ignored'. Apparently, Goldman's Americas Diversity Committee has reported that women are 'unable to crack male informal networks'. Women were denied promotions while their similarly-qualified male colleagues were allowed to move up; and one plaintiff found herself NFId to a Goldman golfing outing, despite having been a Varsity golfer, as her subordinates merrily strapped on their plus-fours.

2. It 'condones the sexualisation of women and an uncorrected culture of sexual assault and harassment'

This bit is pretty heavily redacted, so we don't know the gruesome details. What we do know is that various press articles have described episodes where 'memos announcing a new crop of incoming female associates... used semi-nude pictures of Playboy playmates' instead of corporate headshots, and that at a corporate party in Las Vegas, hot tubs with topless women were laid on. Awkward. Several employees have even been sexually assaulted.

Client entertainment at strip clubs is a perpetual problem for women working in a male environment, and here it's no different. At one orientation event, the bank allegedly told new trainees that while clients will ask to go to strip clubs, they shouldn't 'expense' it. It's ok, though, if it's 'off the books'.

3. It tolerates and even rewards men who behave badly towards women

This section is pretty much entirely redacted, apart from this bit: 'Goldman is aware of these problems, and it tolerates managers who engage in gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and/or gender favouritism'. How it tolerates that stuff, we can only imagine.

4. It 'devalues' pregnant women and punishes working mothers

According to the allegations, the bank regards women with children as 'less committed to their jobs' and penalises those who do get pregnant by taking away key accounts, relationships and even roles. Various women report being given different jobs (inlcuding one who was told when she was pregnant that she was being transferred to 'a department of one') and being denied promotion.

Even Goldman itself has admitted its practices in this area are less than exemplary: according to the document, a memo written in 2003 titled 'talking points for maternity leave' includes the line 'we have limited experience in dealing with the issues surrounding managing a professional on maternity leave, and some of our experience has proven that we are not very good at it'.

5. It doesn't prevent discrimination

The lawsuit reckons that while Goldman does have processes in place to ensure women and other minorities are treated equally, they're not very effective. For one, internal data suggests that between half and three-quarters of managers didn't have any diversity training at all between 2002 and 2007 (they're supposed to have two hours a year). When they did have it, they watched presentations with names like 'Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey' and 'Kick-off to the World Cup: Building the Future of US Soccer' - which, as the lawsuit rather archly points out, 'appear[ed] not to even address the subject matter'.

Similarly, an internal review process was supposed to verify that the percentage of women at each level was on-target - but in the end, even if it found discrepancies, it didn't do anything about it. According to the lawsuit, female vice presidents are paid 21% less than their male counterparts. Female associates are paid 8% less.

6. It retaliates against women who complain

Complaining about bad treatment is a 'career ender', according to the document. One woman who was assaulted said the man who did it was 'assigned to be one of her co-managers and other job duties and responsibilties were removed', while another reported that, having complained of discrimination, 'the firm... retaliated against me by reviewing me negatively, lowering my compensation, threatening to take away my [account] coverage... and ultimately terminating my employment'.

'Former employees who still work in the financial services industry report concerns that if they come forward... the firm will blacklist them,' it adds, citing one woman who had two prospective job offers rescinded because Goldman told her employers-to-be that they should 'run, not walk, away'. Which, if it's true, is pretty scary.

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