Goldman Sachs wants employees back in office. Women say they need flexible work. We asked 300 female analysts and associates if this could drain diversity at the firm.

May 11, 2022, 1:23 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! This is Paige McGlauflin filling in for Emma again. Alabama passed a law criminalizing gender-affirming medical care to transgender minors, Mario Batali was acquitted of sexual assault charges in Boston, and young women working at Goldman Sachs get candid about the firm’s return to office policy.

– Getting candid. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has repeatedly made clear his disdain for remote and hybrid work, calling work-from-home arrangements an “aberration” that the bank intends to correct.

Solomon has pushed to bring the firm’s employees back to the office over the last year, arguing that it helps younger employees develop critical skills and cultivate a prestigious network, even as other financial institutions—JPMorgan Chase, UBS, and Citi—have embraced more flexible work models. My colleague Geoff Colvin wrote an in-depth feature in March, detailing Solomon’s five-day-a-week return-to-office mandate and the ensuing employee response. In February, the bank called all of its employees back to the office. Just about half showed up, a trend that hasn’t seen much improvement over the last three months. In-office attendance currently hovers at just 50% to 60%, down from 80% before the pandemic. 

“Behavior shifts take time generally. And I think over the course of the next couple of years, our organization will generally come together,” Solomon told CNBC’s David Faber last week.

With pressure mounting to return back to the office full-time, some employees, particularly millennial and Gen-Z women, are eyeing an exit. That’s not entirely surprising. Several surveys have found that women prefer working remotely at a higher rate than their male counterparts, with a considerable share of young female employees reporting that they won’t join a company that doesn’t provide work-from-home options.

These stats are all the more concerning given Goldman’s ostensible commitment to gender diversity. The firm said in 2020 that it wants 40% of vice presidents globally to be women by 2025 (women made up 32% of VPs in 2021), building on a pledge the year prior for women to make up half of its analyst class by 2021.

Last month, I reached out to more than 300 female analysts and associates at Goldman to gauge how the bank’s strident stance on fully in-office work may impact its retention of this demographic. While several admitted that they don’t mind working in person from time-to-time, with some even bordering on apathetic, respondents overwhelmingly said they’d prefer hybrid work, citing better work-life balance and an ability to shoulder child-rearing responsibilities, which invariably fall on women. Sources were granted anonymity so they could speak frankly, but their identities are known to Fortune.

“I don’t think that [the policy] would necessarily make me feel viscerally opposed to staying here,” a New York-based, first-year financial analyst told me. Her job requires in-office attendance most days so she can speak with traders in the late afternoon. During the Omicron surge, she continued to go into the office, but her managers occasionally allowed her team to work remotely if members had a reasonable excuse, she said.

She typically leaves the office by evening, though other analysts often stay as late as midnight. But if her team was less flexible, she says, “I would definitely be considering moving to either a different team within Goldman, or just out of Goldman in general.” For the analyst, a flexible arrangement doesn’t mean spending the bulk of her workweek at home, either. She says she’d be satisfied working remotely in the early mornings before heading to the office later in the day.

“I hope that the firm understands the importance of flexibility, especially considering competitors do have a lot of flexibility in their working arrangements,” she said.

The benefits of in-person work aren’t lost on the employees who spoke to me, and many zeroed in on the positives: face-to-face interactions that foster more meaningful relationships, access to mentorship opportunities, and water-cooler moments that spark creative ideas more easily than the virtual back-and-forth slog that’s distinctive of online work. Still, Goldman has seen massive success over the last two years despite employees working remotely, raking in a record $59 billion in revenue in 2021.

“I do think that younger employees like the flexibility and we all have been extremely productive,” said a third-year finance associate based on the West Coast. “Goldman had its best year ever.” The employee has found working from the office to be distracting, inhibiting her daily performance and productivity. In an ideal world, she’d prefer to work from the office at her discretion. 

“I think it’s a silly business decision,” she said. “I think there’s going to be turnover and recruiting challenges, especially if tech companies and smaller companies use remote-slash-flexible work as a benefit to attract employees.” However, she adds, ”We had a record-breaking year of interns applying, so who knows.” (The firm received 79,000 applicants for its 2022 summer internship program, up 16% from last year, but did not provide a breakdown by gender.)

Indeed, the allure of flexibility in Silicon Valley is too strong a pull for several Goldman employees on the tech side. One first-year technology analyst in New York highlighted the tech sector’s embrace of remote work as one of the primary reasons she’d jump ship, adding that she wants the freedom to live and work where she wants while still young.

“A job is not necessarily a job to me in a traditional sense… [it’s] only just part of my life,” she said. Just days before publication, the analyst informed me that she’d quit her job at Goldman and accepted a fully remote position at a DAO startup.

For many junior-level employees, settling down is already a priority if not a reality. Several stated that they’re already thinking of starting a family and would likely seek out employment at a firm that offers fully remote or hybrid work as they prioritize marriage and having children in the near future. One finance analyst, who is currently on maternity leave, said she and many of her colleagues who are mothers are unhappy about Goldman’s transition back to the office.

“We are all very annoyed and concerned about what we’re going to do for childcare,” she said. “The last two years we had been able to work from home, which meant we could also do childcare for our kids.” Goldman does offer on-site childcare in its New York City, Jersey City, and Salt Lake City offices, as well as several locations globally. But the analyst isn’t based out of one of those offices. The bank also offers 20 days of backup care, per child, for parents whose arrangements fall through, and 20 days of on-demand care at home. The benefits were expanded to 30 days of care per child for the duration of the pandemic. The bank also helps employees find permanent childcare coverage if on-site care isn’t available, a Goldman spokesperson told Fortune.

Beyond childcare provisions, young mothers are factoring in commuting time and costs. “Some of us are commuting from two hours away,” the analyst said, which is time she’d rather spend with her husband and child. While she’d prefer to stay at Goldman, and even commended its caregiving offerings, which include five months of parental leave, she’s actively seeking out employers that allow full-time remote work.  

“Goldman is doing its absolute best to support its employees during this entire crisis. We did not lose people and a lot of companies did,” she said. But she notes that the bank’s fierce championing of a full return to office may change that. “I don’t think it’s going to last long,” she said of the bank’s policy.

Paige McGlauflin

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