Wall Street, Sexism, and Journalism: The Case of Zoe Cruz

9 years ago

Was Zoe Cruz, the most powerful woman on Wall Street, fired from Morgan Stanley because she is female? An article in New York Magazine tried very hard to prove so. Long story short: Three weeks prior to asking Cruz to resign, CEO John Mack indicated that she was his first choice to replace him. As people (i.e. - men) jostled for power within the bank, Cruz earned supporters who appreciated her abrasive, upfront style, and enemies who thought she was in over her head. She made many power plays and helped oust many other powerful men, such as Vikram Pandit, the man who currently has the job title she was promised (updated to clarify that he is the CEO of Citigroup), during her tenure there. In her work, she backed a group that was playing games with the mortgage market. When that market started to fall apart, she tried to staunch the flow of losses. When the shit hit the fan, would Mack take the fall or would he leave his heir apparent holding the bag? Thanks to pressure in part from from arch-enemy Pandit, Cruz solely took the heat. Some say it is because she is a woman, but I think it is much more complex than that.

Granted, it is not like Mack, Pandit, or any other power players are going to tell Cruz that she is fired because she's a woman any more than Goodyear was going to make it clear to Lily Ledbetter that it was denying its only female supervisor at an Alabama plant raises equal to those it gave men with significantly less experience. That's what makes sexism in the work place today so pernicious. How do you prove that you were fired because you are the only female on the team when there's no direct evidence?

While I thought the evidence was inconclusive at best as to whether Cruz was axed because she was a woman or because people just were out to save their own asses, I found two examples in the article very sexist. First, when Mack tells her that he wants her to resign, the magazine reports that the first thing she said is, "I have to call my husband." Incidentally, the first thing I would do if I were in this situation is call my husband, so I don't think it is a strange response from someone who is shocked to discover that she just got sacked out of nowhere, but it struck me as an odd thing to write. It seemed to imply that she wanted him to help her decide whether to resign as requested or fight it out. I noticed when the article reported how Cruz helped push Pandit out, they didn't note that he rang up his wife to let her know; it said nothing about his personal reaction at all.

Another items in the article that stuck in my craw is how Cruz is described a few weeks after her likelihood of being the first female CEO on Wall Street is (temporarily?) demolished. The article says:"'She looks beautiful,' says a friend. One can’t help but notice it’s an observation that wouldn’t be made about a male executive in exile." Absolutely! So why print it. Does it prove that she was fired because she was a woman because her friend now describes her as looking better being unemployed than when she was the most powerful woman on Wall Street? Um, no. Instead, it is a sneaky way to infer that she was fired because in the back of everyone's mind, we are sexist.

I was also annoyed when the magazine reported that she was one of those women who managed to have it all. According to the article, when her daughter needed to bring cookies to school, she arose at 4 AM to bake them herself. Maybe I am reading into this, but does the article have to prove that she's a "real woman" despite her hard-as-nails style at work? Would they soften a man by mentioning that he was a good dad and sometimes left work to attend his kid's dance recital, only to return to the office and work all night? I suppose it is possible, but unlikely. It seems sexist to mention her parenting skills. While this says nothing about her job, it denigrates the women who are unable to be the moms who make everything from scratch while working demanding jobs. I can guarantee that my stay-at-home mom would not bake me cookies to bring with me to school, and I promise that I'd appreciate the store bought ones more because my mom, love her as much as I do, is a terrible cook. Does that make "alpha female" Cruz somehow better at her job? It's irrelevant.

So forget Zoe Cruz. Despite the magazine's hard working attempt to paint her dismissal as a result of sexism, I'm not entirely convinced. The woman had enemies and supporters. It made it clear that there were powerful people there who liked her as much as the opposite powerful people hated her. Plus, as someone commented, a large number of the men cited in the story were fired at least once while she survived for years. What struck me as a more important than the Cruz firing itself was the fact that she was the only woman around at the top. The article is chock full of damning evidence that bias against women prevents them from getting to Cruz's position in the first place:

By the late nineties, sex discrimination had become a thorny issue for the company. A Morgan Stanley executive named Allison Schieffelin was making waves, claiming that her boss denied her promotions and discouraged her from participating in “men’s events such as golf outings, football games, and ‘boys’ nights out.’ ” Vikram Pandit, the head of the equities division where Schieffelin worked, hosted a dinner for her and five other women to hear their grievances. Pandit told them that pervasive sexism was a “cultural thing,” and while it was “unfortunate,” he suggested they “look forward” and build a foundation of equality for the next generation. The women were not satisfied: It was “obvious [Pandit] is going to do nothing to help us in this generation,” said one. In 2001, Schieffelin and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit claiming women had been denied opportunities for advancement. (In 2004, Morgan Stanley settled the suit for $54 million, which was distributed among 67 female employees.)

...A former female associate says Cruz was important in articulating the challenges of women to Mack. “We start men and women at the same line, but we make women jump over the log and through the trees and over the hoop,” she told him. For Mack, says the associate, “that was just totally eye-opening.”

...If you ask a woman now if it’s different than it used to be, they say it’s the same or worse,” says Linda Bialecki, who runs a Wall Street search firm. “It’s worse because it’s gotten so much more subtle. It’s hard to argue about subtle. But it’s a thousand cuts.”

...More important than the number of women in the field, however, are the positions they hold. There are very few women in the highest levels of management at any of the big Wall Street firms. Goldman has three women on its management committee of 29, but only one of those positions wields any real power—the others are general counsel and a hedge-fund liaison. Similarly, the two women in upper management at Merrill Lynch work in public affairs and as general counsel. Respectable jobs, certainly, but not jobs that lead to CEO.

In fact, the article makes it clear that some leaders throughout the bank recognized Cruz's leadership, admired, and protected her, just as others did not. No one is ever going to be liked to 100% of the people with whom they work, regardless of gender. At least Cruz had the patrons that any ambitious financial professional - male or female - requires in order to make it to the top. If only other woman will get that chance, I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss whether it is sexism or not that gets them fired from top jobs. It is certainly sexism that prevents them from getting up there in the first place.

Agree or disagree? What other women are saying about this:

  • "the boyz club" by Miss Arianna at Feminae Fabula
  • "Last Woman Standing: The Firing of Zoe Cruz" by Erin Abrams at The Glass Hammer
  • "Zoe Cruz: Women and models of power Part 1" by Dori at Dori's Moblog
  • "Zoe Cruz: Can Women Ever Beat the Street?" at Women's Voices for Change
  • Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, about yogurt at Live Active Cultures, and about creating positive social change at Just Cause.

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