Editors' pick: Originally published June 1.
Everybody loves a half-price sale, and if you're a recruiter on Wall Street, there's always a markdown on female employees.
Women in finance last year earned 52 cents for every dollar that men made in a job category the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "securities, commodities and financial services sales agents." That's about as bad as it gets for women workers. It was the biggest pay gap among 119 occupations evaluated in a recent report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
But the revealing lawsuits that used to challenge this outrageous pay gap and economically hostile work environment to women are few and far between today -- and that's how Wall Street wants it. The country's biggest banks have made it harder than ever for women with complaints of unequal pay or treatment to make their cases in a public forum.
It was 20 years ago last month when three women in the Garden City, New York branch of Smith Barney triggered an industry-wide migraine, filing a class-action lawsuit that exposed egregious sexual harassment and unequal pay. It was dubbed the "boom-boom room" suit, the namesake of a party room in the branch's basement.
The worst public relations damage initially was restricted to Smith Barney on that Spring day in 1996. But C-suiters at other brokerage firms didn't have to look far to find evidence of unequal pay and sexual harassment at their own shops. Indeed, emboldened by the Smith Barney group, women all over Wall Street mobilized to sue and make their stories of discrimination public.
Merrill Lynch's women filed a class-action lawsuit in 1997. After that, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank -- sadly, I could go on -- all were hit with complaints by women filing alone or on behalf of a class.