A RAW DEAL

THE WOMAN WHO WOULDN'T PLAY CITY BOYS' GAMES

Linda Davies was a 'killer banker.' She did deals, lived high and low on adrenalin and earned a small fortune. It was glamorous and thrilling, but it was still a man's world - and one she finally rejected. This is the story of her seven years in Chauvinism City.
Now I look back, it was oddly appropriate. I was dressed as if for a funeral, the gold buttons on my suit the only light in a sea of black. It was my first day at work as a merchant banker in the City of London. My mood was sombre, too, as I swayed to work on the Tube. I peered round my Financial Times at glum faces in pinstripes. I had been to the City, half a dozen times for interviews, but the mystique still lingered and I was apprehensive. I was about to infiltrate a man's world of suits and clubs. Cynical detachment was to be my handicapand saving grace. It brought me conflict, but it also kept me sane. Eventually it allowed me to break free. I entered the Square Mile in 1985 and left it seven years later. Having achieved the glittering prize of a City career, I found that it was more of a gilded trap. Ultimately, the money and the dubious glamour were not sufficient compensation for the ruthless environment and harsh work routine.
A surprisingly large number of my female contemporaries, many just a fingernail away from the upper echelons, have dropped out for similar reasons. They now work in less lucrative, less prestigious, but more civilised jobs. Back in the boom time of ambition and hope, that was unthinkable.
My first employer was an American bank, housed in a tower of rose marble and glass. The interior, by contrast, was starkly functional. The territorial hierarchy of my department, corporate finance, was simple: proximity to the windows meant seniority. The secretaries were clustered in the shadows, separated from the executives by a walkway that was more of a gulf. On one side sat men, on the other women. I looked around for sisterly solidarity and found none. Two men in the department came up and told me, only half joking, that I was an experiment, they had never before employed a woman in corporate finance in London, and did I mind if they studied me? Others scrutinised me, perplexed I had changed from a student into the prevailing image of City woman. My long : blonde hair had been cut aggressively short, and I wore the standard power-dowdy uniform which at the time bore a striking similarity to that of Lady Thatcher: padded shoulders, dark suits, long skirts and patent leather shoes.
Physical role models were easily emulated from television, newspapers and the Tube, but I had no appropriate 5 behavioural role model. I was not sure what my universe of men expected of me, but then neither were they. I worked hard, kept quiet and hid behind my "killer banker" image. For a while I felt pleased with my adaptability.
The benefits swiftly became evident. A few days after my arrival I was added to a team which advised an important American client who was coming to London to discuss a possible takeover bid. Four days of feverish activity preceded the meeting. I lived on coffee, Silk Cut and takeaway pizzas, locked in a conference room with a charismatic boss to impress the client, and two highly trained financial whizkids (known in the trade as "rocket scientists';) who launched a series of complex computer-based proposals. I was general dogsbody.
We worked l7-hour days. The day before the meeting, we all crawled home at midnight exhausted. On the day of the meeting disaster struck. Both rocket scientists had rung in sick. My worried-looking boss convinced me that I would be fine - the client was paying good money for my bank's financial advice and so good advice is what he would get. I was to be the trouble-shooter. In four long days I had picked up the basics and learnt the jargon. I would manage: I had no choice.
That night I went home sick with stress and exhaustion but satisfied I had learned a good deal about technical issues but, just as importantly, I discovered that style carries a high premium in the City; it doesn't always matter what you say as long as you deliver it with supreme confidence. I had also gained a measure of credibility -a challenge has been thrown at me, and I had carried it off. My reward was that I kept the client.
Three months later I had to go to New York for my formal technical training with the bank. Arriving in New York was like stepping into a wonderful hell, of which the programme's midtown offices were a kind of boiler house. I was given a red carpet welcome. A few nights at a fivestar hotel, a daily dollar allowance on which I could live quite well (on top of my salary back home), and six months' rent-free accommodation. I lived in a studio apartment on West 85th, just off Central Park, but soon discovered that there would be little opportunity to enjoy it. There were 35 trainees from across America, of whom almost 40%, encouragingly, were women, and two other Europeans, both female, from the Milan and Frankfurt offices. They sashayed into the spartan training centre in a glorious rebellion of colour and style against the tailored grey of the Americans. Their fashion revolt was swiftly put down. The training programme was a war of attrition, and had I known what was coming I would probably have caught the first plane back to London: 36-hour working stints, exams every fortnight (fail one and you're fired), the removal of all individual characteristics and the pasting-on of a veneer of high seriousness. I was to learn from the training programme not just the mechanics of corporate finance, but how to look, act and survive in the financial world The Americans, familiar with the required image, sailed through this part, but we all took a battering with the mind-games.
Ultimately a usefultool for the City armoury, these were agonising exercises designed almost to break our spirit and remould us as committed banker clones, motivated by fear. First, we were given four days' work to complete in two. As daytimes were spent attending lectures about finance, only nights remained in which to complete the projects. I studied all day, worked all night, and after 36 hours I slept. Then, still weary, I was assailed by mind-game two, calculated to shake confidence and elicit the highest standards of work. This was achieved by the deliberately irregular marking of assignments. One week I would turn in a good piece of work, the next week another, equally good. The first assignment would secure ah A grade, the second a C. Two Cs in a row and I would have been fired. I came to realise that all I could do was give my best and if, like a quarter of trainees, I was put on the next plane home, at least I had tried.

At first the constant threat of dismissal induced an ulcerous apprehension. This was replaced by a grim determination not to let it happen, but for others it was quick and heartless. A trainee who had become a close friend appeared at my desk one afternoon in tears. She had been told to clear her apartment and catch the l0pm plane home to Montreal. Although intellectually up to scratch, she had failed an exam on an off day. She was out, her pleas for clemency ignored. The pressure polarised the trainees. Some knuckled and remould us as committed banker clones, motivated by fear.
The pressure polarised the trainees. Some knuckled down and became ultra-committed, others became closet rebels. The committed were wiser, knowing that, however tempting, it is better not to bite the hand that feeds you. I became an early rebel.
Rebellion chiefly took the form of having fun. While the bank went to great lengths to house us lavishly and pay us generously, it clearly didn't expect us to enjoy ourselves. Sedition was sweet: weekends in the Caribbean or Vermont, shopping in Bergdorf Goodman, dinner at the Russian Tea Rooms, and after exams the ritual progression through all the best bars on the Upper West Side.
I survived and gained confidence. I was extravagantly rewarded, while the unsuccessful were banished with no references and no payoff - yet the margin between success and failure was so fine it seemed almost arbitrary. My introduction to the brutality of the merchant banking world. forged feelings of panic, despair and exhausted resignation. It also shattered illusions, leaving me prepared to deal with the reality.

******

I returned to London ambitious and committed. Business was booming and I worked regularly from 9am till 10 or 11pm, and one weekend in two. In my first year I rook two days' holiday. Even in slack periods, convention kept me glued to my desk. It did not look good to leave before 7pm. The men would occasionally sneak out early, leaving their jackets hanging on their seats to suggest they were still there. But more often they stayed, and it became a competition to see who was there the latest. So much time was wasted doing nothing or filling the day with pointless meetings, testing the hierarchy and marking out territory. After four years I began to find the long working hours, swelled by artifice, intolerable.
Ready for a new challenge, I went to work for a British merchant bank. Instead of liberation I found an environment deeply inhospitable to women. Although the proportion of female employees - around 30% - was high compared with most banks, the roles they played out were profoundly depressing. They dressed down, toned themselves down and were very often worn down. Most, despite considerable experience, were concentrated in the more junior positions, where they were worked like slaves. Days that finished at 5am were not uncommon. Employees were expected to do their work quietly, know their place and stay there until plucked from above. This reduced the infighting but constrained all independence. In meetings you were not supposed to question the opinion of your superiors, even if it was dangerously flawed. My training in New York encouraged me to do just the opposite.
My little challenges to the system went very much against the flow. The pressure to conform is considerable. The men, more familiar and at home in the City, are generally less questioning than the women. There is a danger that they can become complacent about ethics and legality. Some seem to believe that, as if by osmosis, their dubious actions will be sanitised by the reputation of their employers.
One winter morning I found myself in a hallowed meeting room in the City, sitting around a highly polished table with 18 men. One of those present, a senior City figure, suggested a course of action which was blatant insider trading: offloading shares on to the market knowing that information which would lead to a fall in their price would be released shortly. I waited. Nobody spoke. Finally I piped up: "We can't do that. We're insiders.' Awkward silence. Eighteen pairs of eyes bore into me. The senior figure who had suggested the scam smiled at me. "You're right. We are insiders.' The proposition was dropped
The conformism required in my merchant bank was not merely behavioural. It extended to physical appearance. Women were supposed to dress in a conservative manner. One spectacular but sadly rare sartorial rebel refused to dress down, or take orders quietly. Each day she sauntered into work in a different designer outfit. Short skirts were in vogue; she exposed yards of suspendered leg to a gasping audience. Why should she spend her money on severe, depressing clothes, she argued? She worked at least until 8pm, there was no time to go home and change, and she was damned if she was going out on the town looking like a dowdy banker. She had a point but the directors failed to appreciate it; one was dispatched, red-faced, to tell her that her clothes were distracting. Furious, she toned down her dress but not her bolshie manner. Some time later she made a mistake on a deal (one that was by no means unique to her, or ultimately that serious) and was fired.
I could tolerate the dressing down but not the hierarchy and the silent, often mindless collusion it imposed. I decided to stick it out for a year and then review my situation. And when the year was up I still held out hope for the City, so I moved to a flamboyant Swiss-American bank. My new job paid me more than £100,000; in six years my salary had increased tenfold.

*****

My new employer, nicknamed "the Nest of Vipers", was rightly regarded as one of the most ruthless of all the City banks. In place of the stifling paternalism of the British bank, its Swiss-American equivalent was a paradigm of rampant individualism. It was harsh and inhospitable but also thrilling.
I was responsible for finding venture capital investments in Eastern Europe, and travelled widely around Poland and Czechoslovakia, with odd sorties into Hungary. This was a search full of bizarre episodes and adventure. It was the raw edge of banking, as liberated communists adopted extreme capitalist mores overnight. Their attitude was refreshing. Capitalism, for them, had no sex. I had money and they wanted it, badly. I could be both a woman and a banker.
But to see the fruits of my work in Eastern Europe would have meant spending another three years in the same job. This I was not prepared to do. The lifestyle, though exciting, was draining, and I had little time for a private life. Not for the first time I contemplated leaving the City, but I wanted one final fling. I asked for the chance to work on the trading floor of the same bank, selling bonds to UK insurance companies and pension funds. After nine months, however, I was nearly screaming to escape.
The obsessive pursuit of money was boiled down to vicious concentration on the trading floor. It was a bleak 30,000 sq ft battery-farm landscape of grey desks and car- pets lit by artificial light and the sickly green pall of the trading screens, and enlivened by the shouts, screams and stomping of the traders. The atmosphere was so aggressively macho that you could practically feel the testosterone pumping around. This was the land of the "Big Swinging Dick", the self-congratulatory men immortalised by Wall Street legend. The lexicon is overwhelmingly male and sexual: when I started as a salesperson I was told by my new boss that he wanted me "on the floor immediately" so he could start "beating up on me". Clients are "stuffed" and "screwed", a good deal is "the dog's bollocks".
Traders are the kings of the floor, the risk-takers and "income generators", and are almost exclusively male. The few professional women are in the subordinate position of sales staff. Traders make more money than salesmen, so they are more powerful, but their influence is seldom benign. Every so often a trader will find himself in a "dud position", having bought bonds for more than they were worth. He can then do one of three things: sell them at a loss to other traders; try to raise the market price by buying more bonds to create a false impression of demand, then sell; or get a salesman to do his dirty work for him. He generally prefers option three. Leaping up from his chair, he will berate his salesmen for being useless. "You're all a bunch of lightweights! Bastards the lot of you:' he will yell, just to soften us up. The pressure to sell the bonds for him will be immense. A female colleague once quailed when instructed to "stuff" one of her clients with a trader's over-priced bonds. A member of senior management warned her to remember who was paying her salary.
I learned that my bank had a reputation for employing only attractive women when I attended a drinks party given by one of my clients. I was nonplussed when a complete stranger walked up to me and guessed where I worked. "It's easy:' he said. "You are tall, thin, attractive and fashionably dressed." It seemed that my chairman was noted for employing "trophy executives". Several of my female colleagues were ex-models, all dressed immaculately in Armani, Montana and Ralph Lauren.
This was a relatively benign form of sexism, but it gave rise to a more sinister dilemma: you were a trophy executive and therefore a potential sex object, or frigid. There was precious little ground in between. One of the few who escaped this stereotyping was a charming, fresh-faced woman in her early thirties, married with a young child. She earned close to $lm a year. The combination of professional and personal status insulated her: she was treated with a certain grudging respect. But she was a dazzling exception. Most women had to deal with anything from being ignored professionally to harassed physically. In my first job there was one old stalwart who wouldn't speak to m~ for 10 months. He believed that women were a distraction and bitterly opposed my appointment. My contribution to various deals eventually wore him down, but I had been presumed guilty until proven innocent.
You have to rise very high in any bank hierarchy before your record speaks entirely for itself, and the few women who succeed often have to deal with the rotten fruits of envy - the perception that they have slept or sacrificed their way to the top, had too much sex or not enough. The most successful woman on our trading floor started work at 6am, chain-smoked all day, and left at 8pm. She worked harder than any of the men, forcing them to acknowledge her efforts. She smashed her way through the glass ceiling, but her triumph was expensive and incomplete. Instead of being accepted, she was derided for losing her femininity and for sacrificing her private life. She made more than £250,000 a year, but I don't think she had much fun spending it, and it was, anyway, a poor bargain. Any man who worked her antisocial hours and brought in as much business as she did would almost certainly have been even more richly rewarded
The City violates femininity directly and insidiously. Being female is no justification for being kind, gentle or tolerant. In a climate of unremitting one-upmanship such qualities invite exploitation. There is a relentless battle to steal business and to humiliate colleagues. The best defence is aggression, but the sobriquet then is "hard bitch".
Success and longevity are often acquired at the cost of femininity. Many complain that the money and status of a City career intimidate potential partners. Dr Linda McDowell of Newnham College, Cambridge, who inter- viewed women at more than 400 banks in the City for a recent report on the sexes in investment banking, found it a depressing experience: "Many of these women, earning oodles and oodles of money, were unhappy. They complained that they had no private life because people were afraid to ask them out:'
Wanting to be treated both as a banker and as a woman is not a question of wanting to have your cake and eat it. There is, after all, no conflict between the sex and occupation of male bankers, but that is because they make the rules. An analysis of 10 major banks (British, Japanese, American, Swiss and German) reveals that the City is still dominated overwhelmingly by men: at the beginning of this year an average of only 8% of traders and 18% of sales staff were women.
Mere percentages need not translate into sexism but they may make the outcome of the battle against it a fore- gone conclusion. In New York, allegations of sexism and harassment are taken seriously and women are accepted automatically as legitimate colleagues, making an environment more hospitable than in London. Linda McDowell says: "It is one thing to recruit women into a potentially hig4-st~tus career, another to create the conditions under which they are encouraged to succeed"
In other words a woman who "makes it" into the City enters a world where male norms dominate. To survive professionally, she has very little choice but to adopt existing values, however superficially.


I found one effective way of relieving the stress and pressures of my job: spending money. My Swiss-American employer was located dangerously close to Bond Street, and so a bad morning was often eased away in lunchtime sorties to expensive shoemakers or designer boutiques. Many of my female colleagues, both to conform to the required image and for the pleasure of flexing their credit cards, spent a substantial proportion of their generous incomes on clothes, acquiring a wardrobe of Chanel or Montana suits.
The temptation to spend is a cultural and psychological by-product of the City. Women fall victim to the spending vanities but they tend to be more conservative financially than men. Really conspicuous consumption is more of a male preserve.
One trader in his mid-thirties, who made over $20m for his firm last year and took home in the region of $2m himself, eats almost exclusively at Harry's Bar, Mark's Club and Aru1abel's. Instead of drinking wid1 the boys at lunchtime, he pumps iron at the Bath & Racquets Club in Mayfair. At weekends he leaves a paper trail of high-denomination notes around the ritzier European capitals: Milan to see his tailor, Paris to visit a girlfriend, Madrid to check out a new nightclub designed by Philippe Starck. For longer trips, he might fly to Miami, charter a yacht and speed- boat, and a chauffeur-driven limousine for his sorties on to dry land.
Back at the office, Monday morning conversation becomes a contest over who had the most expensive weekend. He wins invariably. Once, hearing that a colleague had moved to a rival bank for a three-year package of £lm a year, he sneeringly derided it as "holiday money". Even allowing for the inevitable exaggeration, his spending makes most of his colleagues look like paupers. (The stratospheric salaries are not without risk. After six months at the rival bank, the £lm-a-year man was fired. He was, apparently, not worth his seven figures.)
In an environment which revolves around risk, looking the part and knowing how to inspire confidence in others is critical. In spite of the recession, those skilled at inspiring confidence and not much else can still rake in half-million-dollar packages as long as someone, somewhere is making money. Inspiring confidence requires the trappings of success - after all, if you can't make a mint yourself, then how can you do it for anybody else?
One female friend thought her City husband was a "big hitter" until she filed for divorce. Then lawyers informed her that the Ferrari and the Knightsbridge flat belonged to the bank. She thought that her husband earned at least £250,000 a year. In fact he earned less than a third of that and spent it all, and more, on convincing others that he was a success.
If it is easy both to make and spend money, losing it can be almost intolerable. In the rarefied atmosphere of a trading floor, with its brittle tensions, adrenalin surges and swinging emotions, triumphs and humiliations played out publicly before a jealous audience can have a profound effect on the personality. Make a million in a day and you believe that you are omnipotent. The risk then is that you become over-confident and tempt fate, to be rewarded by a swift reckoning. Familiarity with the peaks and troughs usually produces a brave face and a shrug when a fortune goes down the tubes: "It's only money." The bravado is seldom genuine.
The day before Gorbachev was deposed, a trader told me that he was sitting on profits of £3m on his "book" - his holdings of bonds. At 3am my telephone rang. It was the Tokyo office of my bank telling me that Gorbachev had gone and the markets were in turmoil. I was a salesman. With no book, luckily, all I could do was watch the spectacle. I pitied my trader friend. The next morning he confessed, in bleak despair, that his £3m profit had become a £4m loss. My male colleagues delighted in his misfortune. Schadenfreude is endemic on a trading floor.
My losses on the few mucked-up trades that bedevil every salesman were paltry in comparison but when they happened I was wracked by a feeling of sickness. Losing money is a visible and attributable failure - there is simply no acceptable excuse. Even making money left me, at times, ambivalent. Once I made a profit of £75.000 in five minutes. I should have been euphoric but instead was guilty and annoyed; my profit had been made in large part, at someone else's expense and, infuriatingly, a stupid error made in the excitement had lost me a potential additional profit of £20.000. Aside from the money, life on a trading floor had little to recommend it. I had dreamed of leaving for years but it was hard to translate that feeling into action: the high salary had a paralysing and blinkering effect. My decision to quit the City was sudden and instinctive. It was Christmas 1991. I had just received my annual bonus. At year's end it is customary to set out your targets for the following year. I realised with exhilarating clarity that I could not face another year in that environment. My goal was to leave - there and then. I felt that 1 had proved myself and I wanted a new purpose. My heart was no longer in it, and a City career is not for the half-hearted.
My boss, luckily a friend, gave me his blessing. With a sense of relief and elation I walked off the trading floor and out of the City. The designer suits now hang idle at the back of my wardrobe. The steel coating I developed is also softening.
Many of my female colleagues have since dropped out voluntarily, while others have been forced out by recession, which has savaged men and women alike. But men find it easier to fire women than other men. They labour under the misapprehension that behind every City woman is an even richer man who will take care of her, whereas the men have no such safety net, being providers themselves.
Another reason for the disappearance from the City of many women is that they have collided with the glass ceiling. But I suspect that changed ambition, just as much as thwarted ambition, is behind their leaving. Money and status are worth little when you have to battle so hard to win them, and barely have the time or the energy to enjoy them.

FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES