Are you paid significantly less than your male co-workers? Been harassed following an employer-sponsored trip to a strip club? Do you work for a company where the proportion of women falls as they rise through the management ranks? Don’t call a lawyer. Engaging in legal carping about unfair promotions, unequal pay, and outright harassment could ultimately lead to fewer women gaining access to the executive suites says Jacki Zehner, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, in an op-ed published by Bloomberg.com last week.
Zehner was responding to a lawsuit filed by three women against her former employer, which claims systemic discrimination because of the incidents mentioned above. They’re seeking class action status against Goldman Sachs. In Zehner’s view, "This case might be about three women whose negative experiences are valid without being symptomatic of a larger problem."
Though Goldman quickly denied the allegations contained in the lawsuit, how does Zehner-who headed up the funding for a report last year titled " Women in Fund Management: A Roadmap to Critical Mass and Why it Matters "-know the three women’s tales of life at Goldman Sachs are the exception, not the rule? Why, just look at the career of one Jacki Zehner, who, by her own account, was promoted quickly, always received "fair" evaluations, and whenever she was subjected to "bad-boy" behavior, had someone to "talk to about it."
Zehner, is just the latest entry into the long tradition of women coming forward to excuse, rationalize, defend, and deny the sexually objectionable at the office, all under the guise of helping women. From the day Anita Hill stepped forward to the recent lawsuits filed against Casey Affleck for his allegedly inappropriate behavior on the set of his recently released film I’m Still Here , it seems as though there is always a woman with some power ready to come forward to defend their bosses. These women will not only say, "Didn’t happen to me. Couldn’t be," but often they will add that if by some chance it did happen, bringing attention to the matter will only set all women back because the powers that be will be more reluctant to hire them for fear of the consequences if something goes wrong.
It’s almost as if female enablers like Zehner cannot handle the possible knowledge that their promotions, their successes, their achievements, and their mostly respectful treatment are not the whole story. And, make no mistake; Zehner’s career at Goldman was an exception. Goldman might, as Zehner and others say, make efforts to recruit women. But when it comes to helping them stay on the job the numbers tell a different story. According to the complaint filed by the three former Goldman employees, women make up 14 percent of the partners at the firm.
Goldman Sachs image from Wikimedia Commons.