"Banks only hire saleswomen for their looks"

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This is going to sound sexist, but I attend a lot of conferences and it always disillusions me when I see stands filled with attractive women whose main purpose seems to be gaining the attention of the opposite sex for marketing purposes. It's even more disenchanting when these women can't converse about their product and a colleague has to be brought along as soon as things get technical.

Before I'm accused of rank sexism, I'd like to emphasize that I'm not suggesting women are not capable of holding a technical conversation. I am, however, suggesting that some women - like some men - are not capable of holding a technical conversation, but that irrespective of this, those women are used to sell products on the basis of their physical attractiveness. It's something which not only disadvantages men, but also disadvantages many women in the industry - what happens if you're seen as "too old," or "too fat"? What if you're a working mother who doesn't have hours to devote to her appearance?

Hiring on the basis of appearance is shallow. It's also something that happens too often in banking. The buy-side clients in finance are often male, and if you're a bank it helps to have an attractive woman as the point of contact. Banks know either implicitly or explicitly that when a male buy-side employee receives a cold call, a Bloomberg chat, or an email from a woman who looks attractive, they are more likely to follow-up.

Male clients are partly to blame for this. Historically, many have abused their positions. A married female colleague of mine was asked by a client whether she was on Facebook so they could get to know each other. Another client only started trading with us after a female colleague who had her picture up on Bloomberg reached out to him via chat.

The truth, however, is that some women in banking also actively use their appearance to their advantage. I've seen female colleagues wearing mini skirts and showing cleavage at client meetings, even when these meetings take place in winter. The same colleagues will often take along junior staff who are experts in the product to do the talking once the introduction is over.

Unfortunately this is a formula that works. And because it works, I see employers and managers turn a blind eye to it.

It's time the industry grew up. The male clients who meet these brokers during working hours, or for drinks after work, need to realize that they're deluding themselves by presuming that their relationships are anything other than professional. The female saleswomen who are pretending to be their friends are just doing a job. They're just trying to win business. If the male client loses his position, that female "friend" will disappear as well.

It's time too that women in sales jobs in banks stopped buying into the culture that's imposed upon them. Talent does not equate to looks and intelligent women should not be expected to use their appearance to bring in clients, to earn a bigger bonus, or get a promotion. The women who do often realize they have made a strategic mistake: life situations change and physical attractiveness may wane. If you've based your career upon your appearance it is often shorter than it would have been if you'd focused on technical expertise.

I'd like things to change. MiFID II's emphasis on quantifiable metrics and best execution is a good start. However, I don't really see the emphasis on appearance going away until the buy-side is replaced with robots. - At least that's one advantage of the trend towards automation.

Tom Poland is the pseudonym of a salesman working for a U.S. bank in London

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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