Women working in hedge funds struggle to be taken seriously at work, according to a new study from two leading management experts.
The report from the universities of Leicester and Essex looked into the concept of "adulting" which is defined as the attempt by people to be seen as mature and responsible, professionally and socially.
The academics, who looked at men and women at a London hedge fund, found that women faced problems at every stage of adult life – from getting started in the company to keeping credibility among colleagues after giving birth.
By contrast, young male staff were given more opportunities to settle into corporate life, and suffered fewer dilemmas in juggling work and parenthood, found Jo Brewis, Professor of Organisation and Consumption at the University of Leicester School of Management, and Dr Kat Riach, Senior Lecturer in Management at Essex Business School at the University of Essex.
"Our in-depth research into life for male and female workers at a busy hedge fund showed women are never the right age in organisational terms," said Professor Brewis, who has borrowed the phrase 'never the right age' from fellow management experts Professor Wendy Loretto and Dr Colin Duncan from the University of Edinburgh Business School, who originally coined it.
Professor Brewis and Dr Riach gathered evidence in late 2010 through 53 interviews with men and women at the fund aged between 25 and 37, and 150 hours of observation.
They found that women's problems began when they entered the company. Unlike their male colleagues they were given little or no informal guidance and training as new members of a team.
When one young female employee found that she had done something incorrectly weeks before, she said: "I thought 'Why didn't they just tell me that? Were they scared I was going to burst into tears or something?' That really bothered me!"
Once they had children, women thought it necessary to hide their day-to-day parental duties as much as possible, to prevent damage to their careers. One female worker said: "I think the pressure is trying to prove (yourself), trying to act as though you haven't had a baby and still do everything exactly the same, like you've got a puppy at home."
New fathers found themselves in a much easier position, according to the research. Talking about a male colleague, one female employee described how she'd asked him how his life had changed after becoming a father. He replied: "No, I haven't noticed any difference at all." The woman added: "I was like, 'I bet your wife has!'"
These differences in the treatment of men and women existed despite proclamations of gender-blindness by the fund's staff. One male trader said: "Money doesn't know you're a woman. If you make a profit or you make a loss, the bottom line is all that matters, [that's] all that anyone takes any notice of."
The paper will be presented at the 7th Gender, Work and Organisation Conference at the University of Keele, on Thursday 28 June.
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