Last weekend, I watched what is tipped to be Leonardo Di Caprio’s Oscar–winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”.  For those of you who haven’t yet seen the film it provides a testosterone-filled snapshot of life in Wall Street in the ‘80s: high risk deals, with plenty of drug and alcohol-fuelled ‘high-jinks’, or, as we now know it, criminality.  Poignantly, whilst the film does remind us all of the crimes against fashion that were a key feature of the ‘80s, the majority of the women seen in fictional brokerage Stratton Oakmont’s offices themselves were wearing very little at all, if you know what I mean.  They were not there for their insights into the financial markets, if I may put it that way.  Thank goodness then that gender equality in the financial services sector has come so far since those days….or has it?   

I’m certainly not suggesting that Goldman Sachs has ever tolerated any of the behaviours common at the long-gone Stratton Oakmont, but it still managed to cause a bit of a stir this week with some potential female recruits.  Goldmans was the biggest sponsor of a Harvard University event aimed at women interested in careers in computer science.  Among the ‘freebies’ offered by Goldmans to attendees were cosmetics mirrors embossed with Goldmans’ logo, and nail files.  One attendee was a bit put out by this, posting photographs of the offending objects on Instagram and commenting “not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping”.    

In a statement in response by a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, the bank commented that “We are strong supporters of efforts to recruit and retain women in technology.  We apologise if the gifts gave anyone offence”. 

So were the offending articles actually gender stereotyping or just an attempt to do something different for a gender-specific audience?  I am personally encouraged that any Wall Street bank is actively targeting female recruits for any part of its business.  Real equality, of course, will come when there is no longer any need to actively target any specific group.  But was the offering at the Harvard recruitment event really reflective of gender stereotyping within such organisations?  One might argue that the legacy of gender discrimination in financial services is that any gesture such as this is likely to be viewed negatively, however well-intended.  You might also say that it shows greater consideration for your audience, let alone more “stickability” for your name, if your freebie is not instantly canned as tacky and irrelevant.     

My own recollection of give-aways at student milk-round events is mountains of unmemorable tat – studiedly gender-neutral, age-neutral, race-neutral (and unusable) pens, mouse-mats and key-rings.  If I had been presented with a choice between these and what Goldmans took along to the Harvard recruitment event?   Mirror and nail file, please.