The topic of sex discrimination at brokerage houses is a sensitive one in the industry. While many would like to think it's an ancient issue, sexual misconduct remains a powerful thorn in the industry's side. Bloomberg News columnist Susan Antilla has been documenting the tribulations of women in the industry for years for both Bloomberg and The New York Times. Now, Antilla's findings have been compiled in an eye-opening book, Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street.
The title alludes to the infamous “Boom-Boom Room” lawsuit filed against Smith Barney in the late ‘90s, in which male brokers in a Garden City, N.Y., office were accused of groping and exposing themselves to female staffers. (Other suits were later filed, many eventually settled, although in late December an arbitration panel awarded one L.A. broker $3.2 million in a case against Smith Barney.) Through her research into other suits, Antilla presents hundreds of women who testify to a culture of disillusionment, ignorance and downright hostility at Wall Street firms during the 1990s.
“So many of them have been so damaged,” says Antilla. “People at first were just terrified to talk to me. Some women would start crying and couldn't finish the interview. It's a systematic thing at many places.”
The book is full of women telling tales of being left out of important meetings, harassed with pornographic banter and confronted by explicit sexual materials left at their desks. Antilla focuses mostly on the lawsuits and on why brokerages were so desperate to keep them hidden. “There are so many instances,” Antilla says. “It's amazing some of this has happened so recently.”