Over her nearly two-decade career at Goldman Sachs, Jamie Fiore Higgins has become one of the company’s few female chief executives, but her success has come at a cost. In her new memoir, Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs, Fiore Higgins details the culture of sexism that has permeated investment banking. This included everything from a discriminatory corporate culture that deliberately held back women and people of color, to lavish, out-of-control parties that overflowed with endless drinking and rampant drug use. (Goldman Sachs denied Fiore Higgins’ account.)
Fiore Higgins recounts stories of harassment and ugly behavior intended to belittle and belittle her and her accomplishments: a co-worker told her she was only promoted because she was a woman, co-workers told her mocked after she pumped breast milk for her child, and she saw one of her bosses use a racial epithet with no repercussions.
Morning Brew spoke to Fiore Higgins about her experience at Goldman, her memoir and her thoughts on making lasting change in the financial industry. Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Who did you write this book for?
I didn’t leave Goldman with the intention of writing a book. The first two months [after I left the company] were incredibly hard on me; a big part of who I was was tied to being CEO of Goldman Sachs. As the #MeToo movement unfolded around me, I heard stories from women and saw how much I was normalizing what was happening to me. I pulled out all my old journals and started writing.
I wrote it partly for myself, I wrote it for the next generation of employees, and I’m also writing it for a lot of women I’ve let down. It’s my way of fixing the way I’ve contributed to culture directly and indirectly through my silence.
Like you said, sitting with your journals was kind of therapeutic. But there are a lot of really, really hard things to read in this book. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part was the audiobook narration. I had so many moments where I had to breathe. Every part I’ve struggled with has been tough – my grandmother’s death has been tough. My assault was difficult. The scene where I was told I was going against the family was tough. September 11 too. Often it wasn’t even the writing that was difficult. It was living with it, the kind of dreams I would have afterwards. And it would be very exhausting to relive it again.
What would you say to people starting their careers in finance today, especially women?
I always joke that that slogan when I first got hired at Goldman was “Mind Wide Open”. No matter your background, they wanted everyone to bring their voice to the table. And in my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, I mean “Eyes wide open”. Let’s be really honest and clear about what the experience is going to be like. I would make sure new hires have a good idea of what their working environment will be like. And when what they have been promised is not kept, they must speak. While people are in the organization, they need to feel empowered to really question things.
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When I think of Wall Street in general, I think of careers as a pie. You’ve got a passion slice, you’ve got a compensation slice, and you’ve got a kind of work-life balance slice. And I think a lot of the time in finance, at least for me, the cake was all about the money. [There were] some challenges, yes, but very little flexibility with my professional life. And so I think that’s also an understanding of employees, making sure they feel comfortable being aligned with that kind of allocation of their time versus their money.
You said your experience at Goldman was basically a hostage situation, going so far as to call it a prison and yourself a prisoner. What would you say to people who feel the same in their own work? What advice would you give them?
I think what really stemmed from my feeling that work was a prison was in my mind. I was in jail in my head, and the door was locked. And that’s what I want to remind people: the door is unlocked. And I really feel like I’m ripe for the picking, arriving with no connections and an incredible sense of obligation to support my family of origin. And the family I was building.
I always felt a bit like the scrappy underdog who had to run twice as hard to keep up with everyone. I want to empower people, say you got what it takes, the door is there. I feel like a lot of these big, powerful organizations tend to have more power and influence over their employees. I encourage people to be confident enough to know that they deserve better than this kind of environment. I wish someone had told me that when I was 30.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self on their first day at Goldman, what would you say to them?
I would have said, “Take a few years to appease your parents, then go follow those dreams.” That’s definitely what I would tell my kids. Because you know what, I’d like to think that I would have been one hell of a social worker, that I would have had a huge, thriving practice. But you know, I don’t know if Jamie, 22, would have had the power to say no to his parents. It’s overkill for me.
The most amazing part of writing the book, really sitting with all these experiences after the fact: I really, really thought I was nothing without Goldman. And I think that’s the key to empowering people today who are in toxic work environments.
You are not defined by what you do.