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If Women Ran Wall Street

07 March 2011

In a heavily, traditional, dark, wood room in Steve Forbes townhouse in New York, I sat with about 40 US CEOs to dine and discuss the state of US and Australian economic growth, relations with China and of course the upcoming Forbes CEO Conference that will be held in Sydney in September this year.

I was struck by the fact that there were only 4 women in the room, one of them worked for Forbes, one was an Australian Government representative and one of them was me.

Perhaps it wasn't that surprising given the room was dominated by heads of industry, particularly the financial industry.

According to a recent survey by international executive research firm, EMA Partners International, of the female CEO's operating within US Fortune 500 companies, only 7% work within the financial services sector. Most apparently work within the FMCG or consumer durables sectors (48%).

So perhaps financial services isn't really a sector suited to women? Perhaps we should acknowledge a competitive disadvantage in that sector and stick to the more traditional sectors of consumables, where we are obviously more comfortable, more capable and more numerous?

Codswallop.

You know it. I know it. And surprisingly enough perhaps even the male-dominated NY financial services sector know it.

A few days after the lunch, I noted an article in the New York Magazine - \"What if Women Ran Wall Street\" .

The article presents various academic findings from Harvard, Uni of Cambridge, Uni of British Colombia, as well as the journalists own interviews with female traders, in relation to tracking testosterone levels and risk-taking behaviours in traders - \"behavioural science\".

The basic premise is that testosterone leads to greater risk-appetites, men have 15 times as much testosterone as women and testosterone is linked to behaviours such as increased aggression and dominance, confidence, risk-taking and sensation-seeking.

Prior to the crash, it was an absolute requirement that traders have a high appetite for risk. But too much testosterone can lead to \"mania\", according to a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the Uni of Cambridge, John Coates.

\"Male traders were acting odd during the (internet0 bubble,\" he recalls. \"They were displaying what we call clinical symptoms of mania. They were delusional, euphoric, overconfident, had racing thoughts, a diminished need for sleep.\"

They made risky investment decisions. In the article, Coates argues that if women made up 50 percent of the financial world, you wouldn't see the booms and crashes of recent times.

It's worth considering.

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