Wall Street is still trying to figure out how to woo women.
To date, its myriad investments in recruiting and retaining female bankers and brokers have produced only pockets of appreciation.
Success, according to many gender experts and finance managers, may lie in convincing men to give women coworkers a boost.
In the 10 years through 2009, 141,000 women, or 2.6% of female workers in finance, left the industry. The ranks of men grew by 389,000 in that period, or by 9.6%, according to a FINS.com analysis of data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And women are still scarce at senior levels. They fill only 19% of executive offices at finance and insurance companies, according to a 2010 study from Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit group that advocates for gender equality.
Collectively, the industry is wondering why women keep leaving and what else it can do to attract them and help them move up.
"[Many programs] just aren't moving the needle the way we'd like to," said Susan Ganz, president of the Financial Women's Association and a financial advisor at the Syosset, N.Y.-based Center for Wealth Preservation. "We don't just want this to be a nice concept."
The problem, according to a number of diversity experts, is that many Wall Street initiatives aimed at empowering women -- while forward-thinking and laudable -- don't accomplish much. Most such programs connect women with other women facing the same steep odds, or with mentors who simply act as informal career coaches.
Patricia David, global diversity officer at JPMorgan Chase calls these efforts "mass networking" opportunities. "All those things are great because they build a lot of goodwill in the system...and it makes the place feel smaller," she said. "But anybody can participate -- you can be the worst performer or the best performer. It's feeding the masses."
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many of these programs are heaped on top of already high workloads, said Janet Hanson, a former managing director at Lehman Brothers who founded 85 Broads, a Greenwich, Conn.-based women's networking group.
"Generally, people are exhausted," Hanson said. "At the end of the day, they either want to go home or they have to go out with clients."
About two out of three of working mothers don't have the time to network with colleagues, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy, a New York-based nonprofit.
The Sponsor Effect
However, companies are starting to report success with sponsorships, more intimate and less formal connections than those propagated in many of the women's initiatives deployed by Wall Street firms.
At JPMorgan, women hold 54% of mid-level manager positions and 23% of senior-level roles, in part because the company has informally aligned promising women workers with sponsors.
"You have to really target who you want to move," David of JPMorgan said. "You focus on six, not 600."
Mentors provide valuable advice and assessments, but they seldom actively advocate for workers at senior levels, as sponsors do, according to Karen Sumberg, a senior vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy.
"These women think: 'If I work really hard, somebody will see that and promote me,'" she said. "That's great, but it only gets you so far."
In addition to promotions and pay raises, the best sponsors pull strings to get their charges assigned to attractive deals and even connect them to power players at competitive firms.
"These are the people who are going to go to bat for you when you're not in the room," Ganz, at FWA, said.
Workers with sponsors are more likely to be satisfied with their pace of advancement and more willing to ask for a raise, according to "The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling," a recent report from the Harvard Business Review and the Center for Work-Life Policy.
Men are 46% more likely than women to have a sponsor.
Getting Guy Time
The fact that the crude, locker-room culture depicted in Susan Antilla's "Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street" is no longer the norm has convinced men, but not women, that equality has been achieved. Only 28% of men believe that gender bias is still prevalent, compared with almost half of women, according to the study on sponsorship.
Yet subtle cultural biases linger. Finance firms still tend to lay off women in greater proportions than men because their managers assume that male employees are the primary breadwinners, said Barbara Annis, who founded an eponymous consultancy focused on gender issues.
Annis tells her clients that any diversity initiative must include men. "When a company has a challenge involving women, they tend to put the emphasis on women to fix that challenge," Annis said. "[Men] have the best of intentions. There are just some blind spots and incongruence between their intention and behavior."
To change men's perceptions, Annis and her employees host "gender intelligence" workshops where groups of employees -- both women and men -- discuss in detail bias and the differences in how both sexes work.
When Jefferies Group Inc., a New York-based investment bank, developed its first women's network late last year, it made sure to build the program with men in mind, said Lisa Pendergast, co-chair of the program and head of the firm's commercial mortgage backed securities unit. In fact, one of the first major events for the group, dubbed JWIN, is a company golf outing in June.
"We've got a great response from senior management," Pendergast said. "This is something that everyone sees the value of and wants to help out on."
One of the most aggressive equality initiatives on Wall Street, Lehman Brothers' "Encore" program, was a casualty of the crisis. Encore helped women transition back to work after a break.
A rash of vanguard equality offerings have popped up since Lehman filed for bankruptcy. Citigroup rolled out a program in November 2009 to boost about 60 "high potential" senior women. Ana Duarte McCarthy, a managing director and Citi's chief diversity officer, called it "targeted intervention." Four out of five advocates in the Citi program are men and, so far, 20% of the participants have been promoted, according to McCarthy.
Deutsche Bank has a similar program dubbed ATLAS, which it started in July 2009. In that effort, 30 female managing directors are sponsored by members of the executive committee and meet several times a year with CEO Josef Ackerman.
And Goldman Sachs has lured dozens of women who were no longer in the labor force to its ranks via its "Returnship" program. The firm now runs a version of the offering in Hong Kong, New York and Singapore, and it plans to launch a version in London late this year or early next.
A little more than half of the 115 alumni of the program now hold full-time jobs at Goldman. That's about 60 that likely would have been gone for good a few years ago.
Write to Kyle Stock