How Trading Changed Over the Course of My Career & Why That’s Made it More Female-Friendly

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”           - Mahatma Gandhi

When I first joined the Lehman Brothers Corporate Bond Desk in the late spring of 2004, there were stark differences to when I walked off the trading floor at Barclays 12+ years later.  The most obvious difference?  The average age on the floor.  It had shrunk, dramatically.  Second biggest difference?  Fewer people.  Like a LOT fewer people.  But there were other differences too, ones not as obvious to those doing a quick scan of the landscape and folks who inhabited the floor.  

Wall Street had evolved, largely due to the events of 2008 and subsequent regulation.  As such, the old-school style of trading – buying big blocks (be it stocks or bonds) and bullying the market higher, lower, tighter, wider, while keeping key information close to the chest and sharing opaque, if not outright untruthful, “color” had seen its heyday.  It was not only discouraged and practically impossible, much of it was illegal.  Additionally, it was no longer smart trading.

What also happened along the way was that the testosterone filled rows across Wall Street which used to be filled with overweight, balding, white men who often did not have a college degree were being replaced with all different types of individuals.  


I often joked that to do my job, I did not need my degree in Finance; I could have used a degree in psychology.  Throughout the day, I spent hours on the phone and in chatrooms online communicating with (mostly male) clients and colleagues.  Those were not always pleasant conversations, and I found myself literally supervising, moderating, negotiating, and literally parenting grown adults.  Everyone thought he or she was right, deserved a better price, and after spewing various threats, was often willing to walk away from the transaction.  I would be exhausted.  

Yet if you watched my behavior over the years, I never broke (i.e. shattered, splintered) a phone (happens all the time).  I swore, but never directly at someone and rarely such that my neighbors could hear me (I’ll never forget the time I said something to the effect of “the market feels like *ss”.  My deskmates found it the funniest thing, likely because it was so not how I typically spoke).  There were a few times I cried, but never from a work situation, only if something happened personally from which I could not shield myself in my oh-so-open seat.  Usually when people retired or left the firm, sadly something that happened quite frequently during my last few years.  

A Wall Street trading desk and all facets of the business was now all about working together, communicating, compromising, sharing open and honest information – with not only your internal colleagues but the clients as well.  Doesn’t this sound like something women are much better at than men?  

Behavior and psychology of the workplace aside, the way that stocks and bonds flowed between institutional investors and the balance sheet of an investment bank had changed too.  Traders on the sell-side no longer had to hold large balance sheets and vast quantities of inventory to be considered a top counterpart and respected player in the market.  Did this help, sure?  But more often, clients wanted to work with the traders who had the best relationships, who had calls into key clients and would get early looks on situations because of past performance.  

Again, without rehashing statistics and sociological theories … doesn’t this sound like something at which women are naturals?  


Megan Philbin