Nahla Khaddage Bou-Diab: To retain top female talent, Goldman Sachs needs a cultural turnaround  – IFA Magazine

Written by Amanda

Written by Dr. Nahla Khaddage Bou-Diab, award-winning culture & leadership expert and CEO of AM Bank, one of the largest banks in the Lebanese market.

Top women at Goldman Sachs are heading for the door. Sadly, though, that doesn’t come as a surprise. 

With ex-CSO Stephanie Cohen’s departure, equal representation across the bank’s highest ranks is becoming even less likely. But, interestingly, this exodus has been pretty sudden: according to The Wall Street Journal, two-thirds of the women who held the position of partner at the bank in 2018 have either left the firm or no longer have the title. 

Other than Cohen, the names are pretty endless: former Co-Head of the Global Financing Group Beth Hammack and ex-management committee member Dina Powell McCormick have also left, and Anne Marie Darling, currently partner within Goldman’s markets division, is pitted to leave soon, too (The Wall Street Journal). 

David Solomon has, of course, acknowledged these departures, saying that “advancing women into our most senior ranks is an area where we have not accomplished our goals”. But, this is not a question of accomplishing goals – Goldman’s inability to retain its top female talent is a sure-fire sign that the bank needs a cultural turnaround. 

When Solomon ascended to the highly coveted CEO position in 2018, he pledged to prioritise promoting women up through the ranks. His statement indicated an attempt to meet DEI quotas, which – in organisations that ultimately were built by men, for men – only create fractious rivalries and competition between female staff. 

To retain women within its organisation, Goldman Sachs must reconsider the value of its DEI quotas. Talented women, no matter their degree, experience, or college, enter firms like Goldman in survival mode – they’re consumed by environments that don’t support them and metrics that hinder them. 

But, in the financial sector more broadly, these women also enter firms with dysfunctional and, at times, even abusive cultures. Spurred by the UK Treasury Select Committee’s ‘Sexism in the City’ report, the FCA has recently announced it will be investigating cases and resolutions of sexual harassment, bullying, and other non-financial misconduct across investment banks and commercial insurers (Reuters). 

We’ve always known that the culture across financial services is unhealthy. You only have to read the many long-form exposés online and in print to understand that. But with the most recent ‘Sexism in the City’ report – and the shocking use of non-disclosure agreements to solve sexual harassment cases – the clock is ticking. 

However, as the report recognises, culture is an incredibly difficult area to reform. As I address in my new book A Leadership Shift, it’s a long, complex process that will require leadership teams to place their full-shine brogues on the ground – and re-evaluate their perception of culture and their people. 

Employees shouldn’t be viewed as a list of metrics, quotas and KPIs, but as people. This should be obvious; however, as indicated by Solomon, it clearly isn’t. Goldman Sachs and other banks are amazing institutions and a dream for many hopeful applicants. It’s time their cultures match this status. 

But that doesn’t mean these financial giants should revert to the cultural status quo of the corporate world. Company-branded mugs, ‘chill out’ rooms on the 7th floor, and free doughnuts on Thursday don’t quite cut it. It’s a massive misconception. 

Culture is about the cohesion of your people: bringing individuals together into one and creating an unwavering sense of belonging. If you manage to achieve this company-wide environment, you’ll reap increased levels of talent retention, collaboration, and productivity. Efficiency will be at an all-time high. 

For Goldman Sachs, this should be basic. The bank is facing a talent crisis – and with this recent exodus of female leaders, if they fall back on the modern expectations of diversity and equal representation, there’s a risk they will face severe public scrutiny. However, if they finally took the reins of their culture and repurposed their organisation, they would remove all the undesirable aspects of their culture that have been beleaguering their reputation for years. 

The removal of DEI quotas is only just the start. Solomon could be at the forefront of wholesale organisational transformation and innovation, finally turning Goldman Sachs into the premium workplace it has historically deserved. But there’s an even greater benefit: under the shadow of Goldman’s clout, other financial institutions might follow. 

As revealed by ‘Sexism in the City’, the culture across financial services is at a critical juncture; however, spurred by the recent exits, Goldman Sachs has a real opportunity to lead the sector out of the organisational doldrums. 

So, here’s my message to David Solomon: shift your mindset, remove your quotas. Transform Goldman’s culture. 

Source: ifamagazine.com

About the author


Hi there, I am Amanda and I work as an editor at impactinvesting.ai;  if you are interested in my services, please reach me at amanda.impactinvesting.ai