Women Don’t Go Into Finance to Find Husbands, and the ‘Fearless Girl’ Statue Is a Reminder of That
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the “Fearless Girl” statue will be standing proud in lower Manhattan for at least another year, which is good news, considering she’s now one of the most high-profile females on Wall Street. The little girl—with the defiant stance and the “I dare you” stare—has done more to raise awareness about the role of women in finance than any high-powered women’s group I’ve ever been a part of, and she’s only a few weeks old. Even more impressive, she’s managed to start a conversation that has stretched far beyond lower Manhattan without uttering a single word, and has reminded us all that women are an integral part of the Wall Street machine, even if our numbers stubbornly remain lower than we’d like them to be. So yeah, I think she should probably stay a while. I’d like to see what else she can do.
If the “Fearless Girl” statue was in place when I went to work on Wall Street in 1999, maybe I would’ve focused on her and not on naysayers who told me that “milk lasts longer in the sun than women last on trading desks.” Maybe it would’ve been easier to ignore questions like: “Are you a masochist?” And, “What’s wrong with a nice, civilized career like elementary education or child psychology?” Or better yet, maybe no one would’ve bothered to ask them in the first place. Maybe I wouldn’t have been one of only a handful of women in my incoming analyst class, or felt like my choice of career was somehow a betrayal of my gender. Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to prove that I belonged there, because it never would’ve occurred to me that I didn’t. Maybe.
I accepted my job in fixed income sales on Wall Street after a summer internship program. I’d spent two months rotating through different parts of the firm, and knew by summer’s end that I wanted to be in sales––a client-facing role where I’d help distribute securities to customers. I returned to my senior year at Georgetown University with a job offer––a good one––one that I was proud of and worked hard for, and encountered the first of an endless stream of disheartening comments regarding my motivations for working in finance. After all, nice, young girls shouldn’t choose to work in the proverbial men’s locker room, right?
When I told my favorite English professor my plans after graduation, she eyed me curiously and said in a tone saturated with disappointment that she was surprised I’d be willing to degrade myself for a paycheck. I thought maybe she’d misheard me. I reiterated that I was going into finance, not prostitution, though I doubt she saw much of a distinction. In her mind, money was the only reason that would drive an educated young woman into that world, and she therefore viewed me as an insult to women everywhere.
I wasn’t prepared for her judgment, and while I’d like to say I didn’t care, I most certainly did. In fact, it infuriates me to this day. If a guy told a professor he was going to work on Wall Street, he would’ve gotten a congratulatory pat on the back, but I somehow was made to feel like I’d done something wrong. We’re only going back 20 years here, and still, the concept of a woman wanting to be on Wall Street because she liked the intensity of the markets, or the way they impacted the news cycle, or the pace of the business, was one that some people were unable to grasp. I wish there’d been a “Fearless Girl” then, so that I could’ve pointed out that she wasn’t degrading herself in the slightest, but rather was confident and capable and poised to take on a challenge. Maybe I could’ve better articulated why I found her comments to be ludicrous. Maybe I would’ve been able to defend myself. Better yet, maybe I wouldn’t have felt that I needed to defend myself at all.
Three months after I started my job, I mentioned to a colleague that I was having trouble getting a trader to explain something to me, despite repeated requests—badgering, really. I was informed that he was probably ignoring me until he was sure that I was there to actually work and not strictly to “husband hunt.” My dumbfounded look was apparently enough for him to explain the entirely too-popular opinion that most girls got married and quit within the first few years of joining sales or trading, so it really wasn’t the best use of his time to invest in my development. How’s that for a catch-22? “You’re here, and want to learn, but until you convince me that you’re going to stay here, I’m not actually going to teach you anything.”
I was shocked. I was 22. I had just moved out of my parents’ house. I had one credit card, a MetroCard, and a laundry card for the washing machine in the basement of my building, and I was having a hard time just managing that, let alone a family. I was no more husband hunting than house hunting. I wanted someone to explain the bond math I was struggling to understand. That’s all.
That comment sent me into overdrive trying to prove to everyone that I was there for the right reasons, that I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, and that I was deserving of their time, wisdom, and knowledge. I fought my own insecurities about not being good enough at a near obsessive level for the better part of a decade. I was lucky in that I had women in my life who had already succeeded on Wall Street, so the naysayers were easier to ignore. They’d done it, and so I had no reason to believe that I couldn’t do it, too, even though there were days where it seemed to be impossible.
Not everyone has that. There are plenty of young women out there who will rely on the quiet strength that the “Fearless Girl” provides, and it’s why I think it’s important that she remains right where she is. She serves as both a visual reminder of the women who have already succeeded in finance, and as a harbinger of those who are still to come. Maybe she’ll help young women recognize that they don’t have to try so hard to be one of the guys, because being one of the girls is just fine, too.
When I look at the statue of the “Fearless Girl,” I’m nostalgic for the early days of my career—the ones where everything was new and everything was exciting and the possibilities were endless. Would she have changed my attitude, or my first impression, or the insecurities I felt? Maybe. What I know with complete certainty is that she’s reassuring a new generation of little girls all over the world that a career on Wall Street is as accessible to them as a career anywhere else, and that they don’t owe anyone an apology or an explanation for wanting to be there. Her real value lies in her ability to sum up the obvious: I belong here. She’s quietly emboldening every little girl out there who’s slowly learning that there are no longer limitations to the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? And thank God for that.
Erin Duffy graduated from Georgetown University in 2000 with a B.A. in English and worked on Wall Street, a career that inspired her first novel, Bond Girl. She lives in New York with her husband and children.