Goldman Sachs is one of the leading financial companies in the world but even then, basic respect and decency seems to be a privilege that the women of the company can’t afford. At least that’s what the recent memoir of an ex Goldman Sachs MD shows.
Published on August 30, Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny in Goldman Sachs is Jamie Fiore Higgins’s no-holds-barred account on the several instances of workplace sexism and harassment that she faced. The revelations are harrowing to say the least.
Who is Jamie Fiore Higgins? Higgins assumed power as MD in 2008, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. As the bio on her Simon and Schuster (the publishers of her memoir) author page reads, her work included “running trainee and internship programmes, recruiting, and managing top equity clients and $96 billion in stock”.
The year 2008 was also a crucial time for her because she had just given birth to twins. This post-pregnancy period is when she began witnessing normalised sexist behaviour in the workplace.
Eventually, the pressure was such that she quit the company in 2016, after 17 years of service.
Apart from writing the memoir (a product of the writing classes she took after quitting Goldman Sachs), she currently resides in New Jersey, US, and serves as a trained coach. Her current work includes providing guidance to teens, high school and college graduates, and even middle-aged professionals who aim to reinvent their careers late in life.
So, what happened at the Goldman Sachs office? A particular instance from Bully Market that caught the attention of mainstream headlines was Higgins’s experience at the office’s lactation room. After her pregnancy, a senior male colleague told her that she wouldn’t make managing director if she was “pumping milk” instead of “working”.
This, however, was not a one-off incident. Other male colleagues used to literally “moo” like a cow and even pretended to squeeze breasts whenever Higgins headed to the lactation room. One day, she even found a toy cow on her desk.
Higgins had to bear the brunt of her seemingly insensitive seniors even when she suffered a miscarriage. She had to join work before the resting period that the doctor had advised because a senior insisted that the office was short-staffed. If this wasn’t enough, the boss added that his own wife had a miscarriage and she was fine “after a few days”.
In another shocking chapter, she details how a subordinate employee was having an affair with a client. So, when Higgins took that employee off the account, he instead pinned her against the wall, and yelled, “If I could, I would rip your f***ing face off.”.
So, how did Higgins’s boss react? He told her not to report the incident to Human Resources.
In Bully Market, Higgins also serves as an observer as she points out other incidents that reveal the general workplace attitude at Goldman Sachs. For instance, she overheard two men discussing the “f***ability factor” of the female employees at the office, even deciding to rank them on an Excel sheet.
She adds that prior to her resignation in 2016, another colleague had hurled racial slurs at a karaoke bar employee in a drunken outburst. The colleague however went unpunished by the company.
Higgins admits to her own guilt too.
Despite highlighting the office’s wrongdoings, Higgins doesn’t justify her stint as MD. She instead admits in the memoir that she did not reveal the toxic work culture at Goldman Sachs as the salaries and promotions lured her.
Even in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, she does not spare herself.
When she finally decided to tell her side of the story, she knew she had to quit anyway as she would otherwise be bound by the company’s non-disclosure agreements (NDA). Ever since the book dropped in stores, Higgins has been receiving messages from over 100 other female employees who allege similar harassment in the banking industry. In their cases too, most of them can’t come out with public claims due to the NDA angle.
Goldman Sachs speaks: As the book changes name of the employees, Goldman Sachs refutes Higgins’s claims as hard facts. The company has issued a statement dismissing what it calls “anonymised allegations”.
To quote the statement further, “Had Ms Higgins raised these allegations with our Human Resources department at the time, we would have investigated them thoroughly and addressed them seriously...”
But as is evident from Bully Market, Higgins’s own seniors had insisted on not reporting to HR even in instances of physical assault. Sachs, struggling to maintain its image, adds, “We have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination or retaliation against employees reporting misconduct, and all claims are thoroughly investigated with discretion and sensitivity.”
The irony will not be lost on Higgins and the other women who claim to be burdened with the company’s toxic work culture.