Women Shouldn't Run Wall Street: Why a Role Reversal Won't Work

This week's New York magazine includes a piece called What If Women Ran Wall Street by Sheelah Kolhatkar, analyzing testosterone's effects on the male-dominated world of trading. It's not an altogether new point. Our own Mary Carmichael talked about it a couple of years ago. And economists at Davos last year argued that the presence of more women on Wall Street might have averted the banking crisis. "Women are more cautious," Muhammad Yunus, the head of Grameen Bank, said at the time. "They wouldn't have taken the enormous types of risks that brought the system down."

Kolhatkar's piece is fresh in that it studies the impact of hormones like testosterone in a more thorough way than ever before, which, as XX Factor's Hanna Rosin points out, "sure is satisfying":

For one thing, the old idea of men and markets on the side of the rational and women on the side of emotionalism takes a blow. For another, testosterone seems to be the new cultural hormone, and I look forward to the day a woman can say to her husband, "Honey, are you having one of your surges again?"

But to me, especially after reporting Are We There Yet? , this week's piece looking at women's progress in the workplace, Kolhatkar's story misses something pretty basic: it's not a question of whether men or women should be in charge of Wall Street, or anywhere else for that matter. It's a bad idea for any industry to be so wildly out of whack in terms of gender balance. Particularly when that industry controls massive amounts of wealth that is critical to the functioning of the entire global economy.

It's been proven time and again that gender balance is good not just for people, but for the bottom line. Companies that have men and women in leadership positions have a higher return on their investments, and recent research from the London Business School suggests that productivity levels go up when men and women work in tandem—in part because gender parity counters the idea of group think, or the frequency of like-minded groups to defend ideas that may be ill conceived. The World Economic Forum recently said that closing the employment gender gap could increase U.S. GDP by up to 9 percent.

In her piece, Kolhatkar describes efforts to get men to behave more like women, by journaling and, in one extreme case, taking female hormones. But as behavior economist Judy Rosener told me, "We spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make women act like men and men act like women!" How does that make sense? Wouldn't it be more logical to focus on establishing a balance, so that everyone can act like themselves?