Male British hedge fund employees worried about their appearance, link it to wealth

Even as women are presented with pressure in regard to their appearance, some men face similar pressure. Take this case of male employees at a British hedge fund:

We got our hands on an academic paper published last week by the British Sociological Association, which muscles into the attitudes of male traders towards their bodies, ageing and fitness, as observed at one (thus far unidentified) City-based hedge fund…

According to the study, titled, “Built to last: ageing, class and the masculine body in a UK hedge fund,” people at the mystery fund admit they get teased for not keeping fit, think affluence is linked to physical activity and exercise to offset the negative perceptions of ageing … oh and er, lie about getting work done.

“Conversations on the floor suggested that traders explicitly rejected or mocked the idea of Botox or other forms of cosmetic treatment,” goes the report.

“Yet, during interviews some mentioned dyeing their hair, having regular massages or going on an intense boot camp holiday in order to ‘fix’ parts of their body.”

The acceptable masculine appearance in this setting is interesting. But, it would then be worthwhile to hear more about how appearance gets linked to success and status within the firm. Do fellow employees perceive fit workers to be more successful? Do they get earlier promotions? Did male traders always have to be fit or get benefits from being fit or is this a relatively new phenomenon? This may be another piece of evidence that economic trading is not just about the numbers. As a number of sociological studies have found, other factors other than individual talent or intuition affect abilities in the finance industry including emotion and social networks.

Trader turned sociologist writes book about Goldman Sachs

A new book on Goldman Sachs is written from an interesting perspective: a trader for the firm turned sociology PhD student.

After writing a paper about organizational change, a professor encouraged him to write about Wall Street.

“He said, ‘No one in sociology understands banks, so you can make a contribution in that area,’ ” Mr. Mandis said…

The essence of his argument is that Goldman came under a variety of pressures that resulted in slow, incremental changes to the firm’s culture and business practices, resulting in the place being much different from what it was in 1979, when the bank’s former co-head, John Whitehead, wrote its much-vaunted business principles.

These changes included the shift to a public company structure, a move that limited Goldman executives’ personal exposure to risk and shifted it to shareholders. The I.P.O. also put pressure on the bank to grow, causing trading to become a more dominant focus. And Goldman’s rapid growth led to more potential for conflicts of interest and not putting clients’ interests first, Mr. Mandis says.

More sociological analysis of the financial industry, particularly from the inside of important firms, is needed. Considering their outsized importance on the global economy as well as global cities, it is a little surprising such books aren’t more common.

The review is fairly favorable, calling the book “accessible” and “clearly written.” However, the review doesn’t hint at criticism of Goldman Sachs. Given the opinions of many sociologists, is that would many sociologists would expect when reading such a book?

When a country depends on one company, like Finland did with Nokia

Here is a quick overview of how important Nokia once was for Finland:

Nokia, meanwhile, has been declining even faster, as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Apple Inc. have carved up the market between them. The company that used to account for 20 percent of Finland’s gross domestic product has seen its sales decline dramatically in the smartphone era and is operating at a loss.

That raises an interesting question: What does this mean for Finland?

I’m not exaggerating how dependent Finland’s economy has been on Nokia. Here’s the Economist last year, detailing the extent of the country’s reliance:

NOKIA contributed a quarter of Finnish growth from 1998 to 2007, according to figures from the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA). Over the same period, the mobile-phone manufacturer’s spending on research and development made up 30% of the country’s total, and it generated nearly a fifth of Finland’s exports. In the decade to 2007, Nokia was sometimes paying as much as 23% of all Finnish corporation tax. No wonder that a decline in its fortunes — Nokia’s share price has fallen by 90% since 2007, thanks partly to Apple’s ascent — has clouded Finland’s outlook.

Since the trend in recent decades has been more toward diversification, this might strike many as surprising. But, I suspect Finland is not alone though I’m thinking more about countries reliant on companies dealing with natural resources like oil or minerals.

I’m also prompted to think whether the United States is in a similar position. There are clearly American brands known worldwide that also have large revenues: General Motors, Walmart, Budweiser, McDonald’s, Apple. But, even with (incorrect?) quotes like “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country,” our economy has a number of important corporations. At the same time, this doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interrelated. Remember the talk from several years ago about what might happen if General Motors went bankrupt? Or, what might be the ripples if Walmart declined significantly? Perhaps more importantly, the companies cited above all make material goods. As the recent economic crisis suggested, we are very susceptible to problems in the financial industry where the products are less tangible and yet financing, investments, and debts are incredibly important parts of the modern economy. These companies are so large and intertwined with so many areas of the economy that their fate to that of many others.

Looking at inequality in NYC by translating wealth differences into building heights

It can be difficult to visualize inequality but here is an innovative way of doing so: imagining wealth as buildings in New York City.

In his most recent visualization project, the Pittsburgh-based artist and researcher re-imagines what the city’s skyline would look like if building height were a direct reflection of a neighborhood’s net household wealth. “I was inspired to create this project after standing atop Mt. Washington in my hometown of Pittsburgh and looking at the Pittsburgh skyline,” he explains. “I thought to myself, ‘What if you could actually see inequality?’ This relatively even landscape would look much different.”

Lamm, who is responsible for other viral visualizations like Normal Barbie, translated Esri’s map of median household net worth in New York City (based on 2010 Census data) into the bright green 3-D bars you’re looking at. Every $100,000 of net worth in a section on Esri’s map equals one centimeter in height on Lamm’s visualization. So if one section (which appears to consist of multiple blocks) had a net worth of $500,000, Lamm’s rendering would measure 5 cm high. Similarly, if another section had a net worth of $80,000, the green would appear at a much flatter 0.8 cm.

Of the maps/visualizations available here, the best one is probably the first one that shows much of Manhattan from the northwest looking southeast.

Choosing to visualize wealth rather than income is a strategic choice. Much talk about inequality involves income but this may be the wrong metric. Income is more about short-term access to money but wealth may be more important for longer-term outcomes (purchasing a house, etc.) and the wealth differences between groups are quite a big larger. For example, the differences in wealth between the top 5% and the rest of America are astounding as are the differences between whites and blacks as well as Latinos.

Additionally, singling out New York, particularly Manhattan, is an interesting choice. The differences here are indeed stark. Manhattan is the seat of the financial sector. But, few places in the United States would have this much wealth inequality.

Sociology article helps lead to getting diversity information on NYC financial firms?

Earlier this week, two major financial firms said they would release data on the gender and race of their employees:

There is no requirement that Corporate America disclose its diversity data, but Monday two major companies – Goldman Sachs and MetLife — announced they’d be giving up the long-held secret…

The information is available and has been since 1964, because under the Civil Rights Act of that year, companies with 100 workers or more have had to report the data on race and gender annually to the U.S. Department of Labor. The problem has been, they were not under any requirement to release that data to the public, or even to local governments such as New York…

And there’s a lot of inequality, especially in the higher ranks at companies where the lack of diversity is greatest.

When I saw this, I was disappointed we didn’t get any information willing these companies were to start releasing this data or whether they were feeling enough public or government pressure. And then the article had a quote from the author of a recent sociology article on the topic that was published in a top journal and I wondered if this article made any difference…

Liu’s push for disclosure is a good first step on the road to more diversity, said Emilio J. Castilla, professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of  an article titled “Bringing Managers Back In: Managerial Influences on Workplace Inequality,” published in the American Sociological Review late last year.

“But this might not be enough,” he stressed. “They’re increasing transparency, showing some percentages, but I’d think about accountability. Are there organizational procedures in place to make sure these efforts result in the outcomes they want?”

I’m probably too hopeful here that an article in a sociology journal was influential but it couldn’t hurt…right?