It's Not Just What You Know, It's Who You Know:

Technical Knowledge, Rainmaking, and Gender among Finance Executives

Mary Blair-Loy


Department of Sociology

Washington State University


Forthcoming 2001 in Research in the Sociology of Work: The Transformation of Work 10: 51-83.



This qualitative analysis of interviews with over 100 executives studies the boundaries excluding most women from the most lucrative and powerful jobs in the financial services industry. This paper examines the roles of technical knowledge and social capital in the highest levels in financial services firms. Although technical expertise is necessary for reaching mid-levels, promotion to the highest levels requires that the executive can cultivate inter-firm business networks to generate business, or make rain. The networks are male-dominated; women face particular challenges in permeating these networks and making them pay. To elicit men's trust and to get their business, unusually successful female executives adopt stereotyped, sexualized strategies that help their individual careers yet also reinforce the symbolic boundary excluding most women from top positions in financial services. The paper also examines changes in these strategies over time. Compared to the stereotyped roles for female managers Kanter identified over 20 years ago, stereotypes of successful women today may be loosening, allowing female finance executives a bit more freedom in how they establish business relationships.




The financial services industry is powerful, dynamic, lucrative, and growing in influence. Financial services professionals are experts, who command technical knowledge. Technical expertise is a necessary but insufficient qualification for these workers to reach the highest ranks of financial services firms. They also need to sell this expertise by cultivating trusting relationships with clients; this sales process is known as rainmaking. Over the past three decades, women have amassed technical expertise and moved into lower- and middle-management in financial services firms but are still very rare at senior levels. At the same time, rainmaking has increased in importance for the survival of firms and for finance professionals' advancement. The boundary excluding women from top positions in financial services firms is partly maintained by the male-dominated networks of clients, potential clients and referrals.

This is a qualitative analysis of the strategies by which some unusually successful, white, female finance executives permeate those networks and cross the boundaries that bar most women from the top jobs in the financial services industry. It is important to study the boundaries that exclude women from the most powerful jobs in one of the most prominent industries in the United States. Gerson and Peiss (1985: 319) maintain:

Boundaries mark the social territories of gender relations, signaling who ought to be admitted or excluded. There are codes and rules which guide and regulate traffic, with instructions on which boundaries may be transversed under what conditions.

An analysis of the strategies women use to negotiate these male-dominated networks and to cross occupational boundaries helps us better understand the barriers and opportunities for women in financial services. This analysis may also cast light on other male-dominated industries that require social capital in the form of client and referral relationships for workers to fully capitalize on their technical expertise.

Based on an analysis of interviews with over 100, predominately white, financial executives, I will argue that neither female nor male respondents view technical knowledge as particularly gendered or presenting specific problems for women. However, the task of rainmaking is complicated for women because male clients and potential clients are more comfortable trusting male financial services executives, whom they see as similar to themselves. The difficulties senior women have cultivating business are linked to the structural location of being tokens in a male business world, a problem analyzed over twenty years ago by Kanter (1977). Although the firm Kanter studied was not in financial services, her female managers had also trespassed occupational boundaries and also faced the challenge of eliciting trust from powerful men accustomed to homosocial business relations. Both a comparison of my data with Kanter's and a cohort analysis of my own respondents suggest that the stereotypical roles women adopt may be loosening over time. Finally, I consider whether respondents are reshaping boundaries in financial services in a manner that challenges the stability of the male-dominated business world, or if they are simply crossing these boundaries as individuals in ways that reaffirm the overall system of male dominance. Before presenting this empirical material, I look at recent changes in the financial services industry and review the literatures on expert knowledge and on women's advancement in prestigious, male-dominated occupations.


Increasing influence and visibility

The financial services industry has grown in visibility and influence over the past few decades. The 20th century was characterized by the rise of managerial capitalism, in which large, publicly traded companies were controlled by professional executives (Chandler 1980). A finance orientation first influenced American businesses through the backgrounds of their own senior management. In contrast to their predecessors who were likely to have had production or research and development backgrounds, executives in the 1970s were likely to have financial backgrounds and thus to see the corporation as a portfolio, "a bundle of movable assets" to be bought, sold, and diversified (Kanter 1983). The importance of financial backgrounds as training grounds for senior management has continued into the 1990s. One study found finance and accounting to be the most common functional area in which senior managers had begun their careers (Korn/Ferry 1993), while another found that executives with finance and accounting backgrounds had made the fastest progress to senior levels (Deloitte and Touche 1998).

In addition to the importance of financial backgrounds for professional managers, the financial services industry as an entity separate from large corporations has developed direct influence over these professional managers. In the 1970s and 1980s, investment companies, bank trusts, insurance companies, pension plans, and other institutional investors acquired large stakes in many publicly traded corporations (Useem 1996). By the 1990s, many of these institutional investors had converted their economic dominance into direct political influence over company management, a phenomenon Useem (1996) calls investor capitalism. Managerial dominance has waned as large investors' power over corporate decisions has grown.

In particular historical periods, certain leading industries are particularly influential and visible throughout society. Today, with international capitalism in the ascendancy, leading financial services firms may be rivaled only by computer executives in setting the standard for developments in economic and social relationships (Friedman 1999).

Women's advancement

The visible and influential financial service industry is an important arena in which to study women's strategies for reaching and thriving in top positions. I know of no survey that examines changes in women's positions in the financial services industry over time. Most studies of women's progress to the executive suite look at only one type of firm or combine financial services firms with other types of corporations without breaking down gender distribution by firm or industry type. Yet from several sources, we can piece together a picture showing that large numbers of women have entered lower and middle management in financial services (and in other industries) since about 1970. Women have gained substantial representation in lower- and middle-management across the labor force (Jacobs 1995; Reskin and Ross 1995) including financial services (Flynn et al. 1995; Rich 1993). Much of this change is connected to the ideological and legal changes wrought by the second wave of feminism, including the enforcement of affirmative action in employment and in education (see discussion in Blair-Loy 1999; cf. Kanter 1977). This changing legal and ideological environment had a direct impact on financial organizations, since the federal government monitored banks and targeted some for early lawsuits (Ashenfelter and Hannan 1986; Reskin and Hartmann 1986).

Women have made progress since Kanter's 1977 description of an industrial corporation, in which female managers were tokens in lower- and middle-management and non-existent in senior management. Today, women are no longer tokens at the lower and middle management levels in many financial services firms. Yet they are rare in top positions, especially at large and prestigious firms. Unlike occupations that women entered as men were exiting due to diminished rewards relative to other male-dominated jobs (Reskin and Roos 1990), executive positions in finance-related fields have remained high-paying, prestigious, and male-dominated (Korn/Ferry International 1993).

To use public accounting firms as an example, we see that women have surged into the lower professional levels. In 1970, women made up 26 percent of all certified public accountants at all levels in public accounting firms. By 1993, this figure had grown to roughly 36 percent. However, women made up only five percent of partners in firms with more than 200 accountants (Flynn et al. 1995).

We see a similar pattern in banking. Women increased their share of managerial jobs in banks from 13 percent in 1960 to 39 percent in 1980 (Rich 1993: 8), yet are still very unlikely to be in top positions. For example, a 1996 publication highlighting Chicago companies that are best case scenarios for women's advancement championed one multibank holding company with 6,433 employees for increasing the number of female senior vice presidents from three in 1988 to 17 in 1995 (Chicago Area Partnerships 1996: 42-44). While this is a large percentage increase, female senior vice presidents are still rare. And the publication made no mention of women who had reached more senior levels, such as executive vice president or above.

These accounts of the rarity of women at top levels fit the stories I heard from the female executives I interviewed. Respondents frequently commented that they were the only or one of a very few women at their level in their organization. For example, one female respondent mused: "You are the only one. So you go around the table, and there is Bob and Joe and Jim and Mike and Peter. You're . . . the odd one." Before presenting empirical material on how respondents negotiate these male-dominated business networks, I consider the literatures on expert knowledge and gendered relationships in male-dominated workplaces and then examine the role of technical knowledge for financial executives.


The expert knowledge literature has primarily focused on scientists, engineers, and other high-tech workers (e.g., Barley 1996b, 1988; Barley and Orr 1997; Rabinow 1997; Dubinskas 1988; Traweek 1988) and professionals (e.g., Brint 1994, Friedson 1994, 1971; Montagna 1971). Partners or senior employees in financial services firms are not high-tech scientists or engineers, and, except for public accountants, are not considered members of the professions. Yet distinctions between finance executives and these other occupational groups are blurring. Business executives are increasingly required to be experts in technical systems (Montagna 1971; Flynn et al. 1995). And professionals more closely resemble businesspeople as professionals emphasize formal expertise over their commitment to the common good (Brint 1994). Like professionals, finance executives are an exclusive occupational group that maintains some control over its own work and applies abstract knowledge to particular cases (Friedson 1994; Abbott 1988). This abstract knowledge is applied to improving the performance of client firms. Alongside professionals and high-tech workers, finance executives are part of a logocratic elite, which wields power by virtue of its technical expertise (cf. Derber and Schwartz 1991).

Senior associates and partners in financial services firms command a high price for their expertise. They work in the private sector and largely for their own firms, where the potential for generating personal wealth is great. They can charge a high price because their expert knowledge is assumed to add value to clients' firms by increasing profits, reducing environmental uncertainties, or increasing managerial effectiveness (cf. Brint 1994).

Much research emphasizes the strategic importance of technical knowledge for firms and workers (e.g., Kleinman and Vallas 1999; Stewart 1997; Albert and Bradley 1997; Nonaka and Takeiuchi 1995). In contrast, I argue that close, trusting associations between financial service providers and clients become even more important than technical knowledge per se for the advancement of financial service professionals to senior levels and for the success of their firms. These relationships are a form of social capital that pays handsome dividends (Bourdieu 1984; Kay and Hagan 1999).

Yet developing these relationships and making them pay is, generally speaking, particularly challenging for women. Although male and female respondents have similar definitions of the technical knowledge required in their field and similar high opinions of their own technical competency, the female respondents experience restrictions that men do not face in selling this expertise to clients.


The literature on women in prestigious, male-dominated occupations has identified several types of barriers to women's advancement into elite positions. First, in this occupational group as elsewhere, women are more likely than men to be responsible for family caregiving and housework (Wajcman 1996). Second, some studies argue that, due to female socialization, educational tracking or other mechanisms, women's advancement in some elite fields is curtailed by a deficit in necessary human capital or technical skills (McIlwee and Robinson 1992). Related to this point are arguments that in our culture, abstract, technical knowledge is associated with reason and therefore jobs requiring this type of knowledge are masculinized and unwelcoming to women (Hacker 1981; Wajcman 1998, 1991; Connell 1995).

A third group of studies emphasizes difficulties women have relating to male colleagues and supervisors. These problems are due to male employers' and colleagues' preference for men similar to themselves (Kanter 1977; Roper 1994) and to the related issues of women's isolation from networks (Moore 1988; Davies-Netzley 1998), masculine workplace cultures (McDowell 1997; McIlwee and Robinson 1992), and sexual harassment (Gutek 1985). In addition, Kanter (1977) found that social structural features of tokenism create special challenges for female managers. She argued that female managers are tolerated by their male colleagues and bosses only if their management style also includes stereotypical female gender displays, such as playing the seductress, the comforting mother, the adorable pet or the iron maiden. These displays allow women to walk the tightrope of asserting leadership yet not violating conventions of femininity in male-dominated business relations (Pearce 1995; Wajcman 1998).

Some or all of these barriers could filter out women before they reach the top rungs in financial services firms. Yet among my sample of people who have already made it to senior levels, both female and male respondents believe that financial, technical expertise is a straightforward set of learned, analytical skills that they easily mastered. For this sample, the most salient barrier to women's success is the requirement that partners and owners be able to make rain, or bring in new business. Women's advancement to top levels depends upon being able to acquire male social capital and to make it pay. Rainmaking has become increasingly important to business services firms' survival in the 1990s (Epstein et al. 1995; Kay and Hagan 1999; Flynn et al. 1995). In a male-dominated business world, however, women tend to have more difficulty rainmaking than do men (Epstein 1993; Epstein et al. 1995; Pierce 1995).

In the present study, female executives are generally the only or one of a very few women at their level at their firm. The networks of prospective clients and other professional service providers who refer business to one another are predominately male. Male respondents characterized their connections within these networks as "personal business relationships." These were homosocial relationships, in which men spent time playing golf, watching sports, serving on community boards, or going out for drinks together. They took it for granted that the other powerful people they would be dealing with would be other men. Hence for the men in my sample, rainmaking acquired a naturalized character that built on their existing personal attributes and networks. By contrast, every female respondent who discussed rainmaking talked about it as a highly gendered activity. Their experience of being the "wrong" gender clarified for them how rainmaking was a problematic mixture of hard work, luck, and dramatic subterfuge that required complex strategizing. These strategies are themselves highly gendered.

Twenty years after Kanter's analysis, female respondents are still intentionally adopting stereotypical roles to try to create comfortable relationships with male clients and referral network members. They are working hard to "do gender" in such a way that highly orchestrated social relationships appear natural to male business associates (West and Zimmerman 1987). The token women in lower- and middle-management studied by Kanter in the 1970s faced a similar predicament as the senior female executives in this study. Both groups had trespassed the gendered occupational boundaries of their day. Thus, it is unsurprising that they would develop similar strategies to survive on the wrong side of the boundary.


This paper presents an exploratory, qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews and life histories of executives in finance-related fields. I collected life histories from and conducted in-depth interviews with respondents. I met most respondents in their offices and therefore saw them in their work context and business dress. I asked a range of semi-structured questions. Most relevant here are the questions about the nature of their work, what they enjoyed most and least about their work, the importance of rainmaking for their work and, if it was part of their job, how they went about doing it. I tape-recorded and transcribed the interviews. I used the qualitative data analysis software NUDIST to coded the transcriptions for multiple themes and emergent categories, loosely following the grounded theory approach (Glaser and Strauss 1967).

The female sample consists of life histories and in-depth interviews I collected in 1994-5 of 56 women in high ranking, finance-related jobs. Respondents belong to a finance executives' professional organization based in a large U.S. city. Respondents work in financial services (including commercial and investment banks and financial consulting, investment, and public accounting firms), as well as in manufacturing and diversified services companies. They have reached levels in companies ranging from senior vice president to partner to Chief Financial Officer, Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner. Nine women had left large companies to form their own firms. Female respondents' annual compensation in 1993 ranged from $75,000 to one million dollars, with a median of $250,000.

The male sample includes 48 men I interviewed in 1998-99, who are also senior executives in finance-related fields. However, they are not a matched sample. The male sample is a snowball sample gathered from several contacts garnered from: alumni associations and business schools; personal friends and acquaintances who work in finance; members of the female sample; and earlier members of the male sample. The male sample members have reached similar levels in their organizations as have the female sample members. Thirteen had formed their own companies or headed up family firms. Male respondents' annual compensation in 1998 had a similar salary distribution. Salaries ranged from $75,000 to over one million dollars (one million was the top-coded category) with a median of $250,000.

With the exception of one African American female, three African American males, and one Asian American male, all the respondents are white. The findings can thus strictly refer only to white executives. Both samples include, by design, people who have succeeded in finance and thus select for individuals with some technical competency and facility in generating business.

There is an a important distinction between respondents who work as senior finance staff members (e.g., CFO, treasurer) in large organizations such as manufacturing firms (8 men and 9 women) and the those who work in financial service firms (40 men and 47 women). Financial service providers who work in or direct their own firms are generally more independent and powerful than people employed as business services staff by other corporations (Brint 1994). Moreover, financial service providers in their own professional firms and internal staffers in corporations are on opposite sides of the rainmaking relationship. It is the financial service executives' job to nurture the relationships to get the senior staffers' business. Senior staff members must demonstrate technical competence and successfully navigate relationships, politics and gender barriers within their firms, yet do not have the responsibility of bringing in business from outside sources. My discussion of technical knowledge will draw from interviews from all 104 sample members. But the subsequent analysis of rainmaking will draw only from the 47 female and 40 male respondents in financial services firms.


In the financial services industry, financial technical knowledge is expertise in the financial aspects of one's firm, clients, and markets so that one can make a profit. The precise content of financial knowledge differs depending on the job, organization and client. Yet two general tenets are important for all respondents: knowledge of how to make a profit from manipulating capitalist markets; and understanding the institutional context of one's firm, clients, and markets. From the respondents' perspective, one could acquire this financial technical knowledge easily and straightforwardly.

General tenets of financial knowledge

The first general tenet of financial knowledge is the ability to assess risk and opportunity in constantly changing financial markets so that one can shift money from one pot to another to make a profit. For example, an investment banker advised corporate clients on how to understand and strategically take advantage of fluctuations in stock prices. Similarly, a banker explained that she provided corporate customers specialized knowledge about cash management. Companies "can make almost as much money . . . by managing the way they move their cash around as they can trying to shave points off their interest rates." Another respondent described strategically shifting money in financial markets to make a profit as the "fundamental" piece of technical knowledge.

Another general skill important for all respondents is an understanding of the institutional context within which deals are made (cf. Fligstein and Freeland 1995). For example, a managing director of a futures brokerage company supervises staff members who clear trades. They ensure that corporate clients' stock trades are properly executed, matched up, and paid for at the end of the day. He explains that his job includes the "oversight to make sure that everything is, that nobody's trading against them, and all kinds of regulatory, compliance type issues that go along with it too. An important part of his expertise is to ensure that trades conform to legal guidelines.

Similarly, a principal of a firm that sets up pension plans explains that the technical knowledge required in his business includes an understanding of the regulations governing pension plans as well as knowledge of the clients' product markets and competitors. As a third example, an investment banker acknowledges that the institutional context includes a stable political system with norms of trust and accountability.

We basically do these financial agreements that are handshakes, and the fact that we've got a tax system that works and that has accountability, and a political system that ensures that that occurs. So the skill set associated with putting together financings based on . . . having a legal framework that . . . causes people to perform their duties legally and contractually, is something that . . . is much in demand.

All three respondents illustrate that technical financial skills include knowledge of the clients' environmental field and the legal, political and cultural framework within which his deals are made.

Technical knowledge understood as easily learned, analytical knowledge

From respondents' perspective, financial problems are like figures to be summed or puzzles to be solved. They believe there is a right and a wrong answer. Respondents analogized financial expertise to expertise in math or the physical sciences.

For instance, one executive maintained that deciding whether to acquire a business requires:

knowledge of the business. If you cannot figure out how the business works, what constitutes success, failure and risk for a business, then you're not gonna' be successful. . . . You have to look at the business plan. The numbers have to pencil out, and it has got to be a realistic business plan that has adequate financial support to get up on its feet and going. . . . That's like whether chemicals mix right, or, -- I mean, that's something that's technical, and you should be able to figure that out.

Another example comes from a broker who helps finance public projects. She mused: "I think my favorite part of the work is the challenge of taking a complicated financial puzzle and using all my experience and knowledge about the business and trying to unscramble and figure out the right solution for their particular problem."

Respondents also saw financial technical knowledge as a set of analytical skills that could be learned. Someone who now owns an investment firm left graduate school in mathematics to become a bond trader. He credits his success to reading books on the subject and to his math background:

"[Starting out,] I didn't know anything about bonds. So, . . . I took out books on the topic. I was very successful . . . due to my mathematical background. . . . My bond portfolio had superb performance due to my mathematical and scientific training."

A few people went so far as to say that financial knowledge was absurdly simple compared to doing something challenging like curing cancer or, some politely added, like doing sociological research. A banking executive involved with funding new ventures said:

Finance is really stupid. I'm involved with this company . . . that's ready to go public. And so we're pickin' investment bankers. How tough is that? The investment bankers come by. They get paid zillions of dollars. They make a half-hour presentation that they do a thousand times a day. . . . There's nothin' in finance that's very difficult.

From the other side of the business, an investment banker agreed:

I like to walk and talk and I can add. I mean, basically investment banking is adding and subtracting. And then working hard and reading. And all of a sudden [Goldman Sachs hires me and] I get paid a million of dollars a year to do that. Well, that's irrational. I don't know why I should get paid a million dollars a year and you shouldn't. I can't defend that.

For some finance professionals, technical knowledge is so straightforward, easily learned, and rote that it scarcely fits the definition of technical expertise.

It did not occur to respondents to think of financial expertise as a gendered or otherwise socially constructed knowledge. The women and the men in the sample seemed comfortable with their technical expertise. In fact, the women had on average more formal education than the male respondents: 86 percent of the women had graduate degrees (mostly MBAs) compared to 42 percent of the men in the sample.


Although much other research emphasizes the strategic importance of technical knowledge for firms, I find that for financial service executives it is even more important to be able to sell this knowledge. The importance of rainmaking depends on the job type and level in the organization. It is generally not expected of staff members who provide internal technical support in financial analysis, internal treasury or accounting. But as people ascend to more senior levels in financial services, they are often expected to become "producers" and bring in business. The size of one's book of business is the coin of the realm.

Senior management generally regards employees with technical knowledge but who do not bring in business as easily replaceable. For example, the managing director of a financial services company said dismissively: "So far as the technical aspects, you can hire people for that. . . . You don't have to do the details of it all. Somebody else does that."

Similarly, a banking executive maintains that the typical corporate client is generally more interested in the relationship with the bank sales person (or "relationship manager") than in the technical details of the bank's services. He says, once the two agree to do business together, they delegate the actual work to technical people with "the thick glasses." He mimics the conversation between the customer and rainmaker: " 'Who should I have Julie contact?' And this person will say, 'Well, have her contact Fred.' And those two people are the geniuses that will go down and do the work." He says that these technical geniuses with thick glasses can be easily hired from any good business school. "Forget the personality. Get the smartest. . . Just hire 'em by grade point average, you know."

In contrast, to reach senior levels in financial service firms, one's personality and ability to bring in business become far more important than one's technical ability. Respondents of both genders unanimously voiced how crucial rainmaking was for the survival of their firms; many characterized it as their most important responsibility. For example, a managing partner in a different public accounting firm said: "Our living is made by being able to spend time with our clients and developing new clients. And it takes a tremendous amount of effort to care for clients properly." In many financial services firms, senior executives or partners are expected to have their own client base that generates revenue for the firm. Later, I will illustrate how the failure to develop a sufficiently large book of business can be reason for demotion.

Other firms do not expect every senior person to be a rainmaker but rather specialize. But those who bring in business have higher status than those who simply grind out the work for the clients that others attract.

One male respondent was introduced to me by one of his colleagues as the most successful rainmaker in their financial consulting firm. This respondent emphasized his unique contribution by describing his function as being at the top of the food chain. He explains that he brings in enough business so the rest of the firm can eat.

I am responsible for managing the organization's relationship with client organizations and for a book of revenue that's probably worth 3 million bucks every year for the firm. . . . I'm responsible for selling the business. . . .

Perhaps you can consider consulting a food chain. I'm at the front end, the hunter. . . . I make sure there is work for people like [the other principals] to do and particularly for much more junior people who don't have the skills or work contacts or where with all to go out to feed themselves. . . .

And then I'm responsible for . . . maintaining the relationships between the firms. There's a technical relationship where . . . [we provide a technical service]. There's also very much a personal business relationship . . . [in which the client says that we] trust you to do it right. Trust you to use not only your technical knowledge in your own field, but your knowledge of our business to make sure that what you're doing fits well with what we're doing.

He emphasized that the primary product his firm sells is not a tangible object and is not really even the financial advice, which the client does not fully understand and which closely resembles the competition's. Rather, his firm is selling the relationship itself. This is a "personal business relationship" of confidence in the consulting firm's technical knowledge.

Similarly, a partner in a large public accounting firm prides herself on her analytical accounting knowledge yet acknowledges that her primary function was to nurture trusting relationships with clients and potential clients. "We don't sell a tangible product. We sell trust. We sell relationships." Many clients are unable or do not want to expend the resources to independently evaluate the quality of the financial advice they are buying. Therefore, the firm's technical expertise is necessary ultimately less important than the interpersonal relationships that reassure clients that this expertise is trustworthy and worth the price.


Most male respondents saw rainmaking as a facility or knack that grew naturally out of their outgoing personalities, their belief in the firm's services, or in their taken-for-granted community ties. For instance, a banking executive discussed hiring bankers who already have an inherent personality trait that allows them to bring in new corporate clients. "Personality is very important. And you can't teach personality. . . . We're just lookin' for people that have a personality that can get along with other people." In contrast to their view that technical knowledge is a learned skill, most male respondents believed that fostering client relationships was a natural extension of their conviviality. Nonetheless, they developed explicit strategies to enhance their rainmaking ability. These strategies include getting referrals from a network of other service providers and forging broader civic ties.

Networks and referrals

A managing partner of a public accounting firm described the network among professional service providers that creates referrals.

Most of our business comes from the partners networking. And the partners that work with lawyers, bankers, insurance people, all sorts of other kinds of professionals, because they have the opportunities to make referrals. . . . They know we do good work. . . . What I want them to do, is that if they have a client that they perceive has an accounting need,. . . I just want to be one of the people they refer. So I want to be in their consciousness. . . . Now the only way you do that is to know them socially. . . . [For lunch] I'll call a banker that maybe I haven't seen in a month. I might say: 'Hi, we just brought a new guy in the technology department.' . . . Just to fill him in on something else we might be capable of doing . . . And we'll talk about things . . . [such as] what is your family doing, [or your] vacation. That's what we'll talk about. And so it's social. Golf works for that. You have to be in people's consciousness, so when the opportunity arises, you are one of the names that pops up.

Connections with other professionals are, like the relationships with clients, "personal business relationships." The firm's technical expertise is necessary; people in the accountant's referral network "know" that his firm does "good work." But it is more important that the "personal" social bond is strong and fresh enough so that the network member will think of this man when a client is looking for an accountant. This quotation illustrates how respondents work hard at nurturing their personal associations with referral network members. Ironically, respondents interpret the results of these social connections as fluid and natural: your name just "pops up" in their heads when they hear of a need for an accountant.

Community contacts

Another strategy extended the circle of potential referrals and clients even wider by becoming involved in the community. Many respondents volunteered for charity organizations, joined civic or political groups and served on non-profit boards of directors. They said they did this community work out of altruistic and instrumental motives.

The chairman of a financial services company concluded a long list of his community activities by saying, "And I think there's a pay back to the community; that you owe them." I skeptically queried: "So if I can play the devil's advocate for a minute. Is the focus really on paying back the community, or is it really on meeting people who might some day give you business? Or is it both?" He responded:

I think you've got to be sincere in working in the community to better it . . . to make a better place for you and your family. I don't think you can ever just join something to develop business. But if you join something to work in it, and support it, then business just ends up flowing. And you kind of know that [will happen].

Again, we see that on the one hand, respondents consciously and strategically cultivate community ties while interpreting the results of these social connections as fluid and natural.

Most male respondents would agree that once you get involved in social networks, your name just "pops up" in people's heads and that "business just ends up flowing." Yet the female respondents' perspective is quite different.


In contrast to male respondents, most female respondents did not see rainmaking as a natural facility belonging to outgoing people with the right personality. Nor did they see it as something that "just ends up flowing" from their community ties. Acquiring social capital in the form of client and referral networks was a deliberate set of activities, over which they struggled and agonized. In contrast to male respondents' naturalistic view of rainmaking, the women had acquired a self-consciousness from being outsiders in male dominated networks (cf. McCall 1992) and had developed intentional strategies to deal with being the wrong gender.

Female respondents tried to adopt the male business strategies of joining referal groups and community boards. For example, a female banker explained:

A lot of my job here is more establishing a network of referral sources that potentially will refer me business. So I'm talking to lawyers and accountants, investment bankers, and just going out to lunch with them. Hopefully, if one of their clients needs a banker, they'll refer the business to me.

Most members of these networks and most potential clients are male. The presence of female executives disrupted the smooth functioning of these networks that usually operated according to extremely taken-for-granted assumptions. The easy sociability among referral networks, "personal business relationships" between client and finance professional, the reduction of uncertainty, and trust itself are all based on the assumption of same-gender, male networks. The network members assume male players (cf. Kanter 1977; Roper 1994). For instance, one female partner in a securities firm remarked: "Women also have a tough time marketing. Getting new business. The people who give business are predominately male, because the people high up in the corporation are male. They are more comfortable with men." Female players, no matter how technically brilliant, start out at a disadvantage in these networks.

For example, a female respondent followed a suggestion of her husband Ron that she join a civic board to meet potential clients. Although she thinks her personality is more "personable and outgoing" than her husband's, board memberships have not generated client relationships for her they way they have for Ron.

The traditional things that I see have worked for men, which is getting involved in community or activities and stuff, don't seem to be working. . . . Ron was the one that when I first started looking for business said, well you need to join some boards. I am more personable and outgoing than Ron is. . . . But he gets business from joining boards. I have not. I don't really know what the difference is besides male, female . . . .

I mean, I think that the discrimination nowadays is very rarely purposeful . . . It's much more subtle. People like to deal with people like them. Ron will go to a meeting of a board meeting, and the president of [some insurance company] will identify with Ron. They share the same interest. They're about the same age. And he'll think, gee, I need an appraisal for this company. I just met him. He's really a nice guy. He's just like me . . . He's not gonna think, gee, I met that woman at that meeting who seems like she's capable, but we have nothing in common other than this organization. . . .

I had lunches with [other board members] and talked with them about how can I get involved and doing some work for your business. And they have introduced me to someone else within in their company, and I had lunch. Nothing has come of it. And I don't know what the next step is after that. And [Ron's] reaction, is well they'll call you with some business. And that's what happens to him. But they don't. I mean, they see me and they tell me how much they enjoyed seeing me, and they're glad to have lunch again with me, but it doesn't go the next step. And Ron doesn't go through that. I mean, he doesn't go past the first lunch before he has the business.

This woman notes that business leaders "like to deal with people like them" and are likely to give their business to someone about whom they can say, "He's just like me." A taken-for-granted assumption underlying these networks is that to be "like" someone is not just shared civic involvement, but it is to be the same gender (and probably the same class and race as well.) Like my male respondents, Ron seemed oblivious to any hurdles that women or others might face in creating an easy trust based on the assumption of gender homogeneity. Yet virtually all the female respondents commented upon how difficult it was to make rain in a community that assumes and prefers homosocial business relationships.

Since by design my sample includes only people who have successfully reached senior levels, my study cannot capture the barriers that prevent women or men from reaching these senior levels, nor can it independently measure whether women's subjective sense that they have more trouble rainmaking than men is objectively true. There is external support for these female respondents' perceptions, however. First, these perceptions were pervasive across the female sample. Second, studies of lawyers have found that women tend to have more difficulty rainmaking than do men (Epstein 1993; Epstein et al. 1995; Pierce 1995). And third, I heard several accounts from women (but not from men) that their trouble acquiring social capital relegated them to less powerful positions within their firms.

For example, a respondent who worked for one of the largest public accounting firms had provided excellent service to some big clients that her boss, a male partner, had brought in. But when she herself was promoted to partner, she found herself scrambling to develop her clientele.

So when I made partner, I had worked for all these great clients, but the current partners that were already on them that I had worked for didn't want to give any of them up. And so it was, well hmm, all right, now what? And trying to build a client list from scratch was a little difficult. . . . It was really tough just getting existing clients.

Regardless of her technical competence, the firm demoted her from partner to a lower, salaried position because she was unable to develop her own client base.

Another respondent had been promoted to managing director in a large management consulting firm based on her national reputation as an expert in the area of age-discrimination legislation and its benefit plan implications. She struggled to build up a client base. ("We've got clients that like to go to girly shows. I have a rule: I don't do that. Maybe some of the men would like to do that. I don't do that, period, the end."). Later, she became the administrative head of her branch. To do this work, she gave up a lot of her clients. She regretted that later, as it meant that she lost much of her power base within the firm.

Still another respondent, a young senior vice president in an investment bank, said, "It is difficult being a woman. It is hard to develop new business and generate revenue." She decided to take an administrative position that requires less client contact but that she worries that this has left her vulnerable in the organization.

Ideal-typical Strategies Women use to Enter Male-Dominated Networks

Almost two-thirds of female respondents employed one of three ideal typical strategies to infiltrate business networks: emphasizing femininity; acting like one of the guys; and presenting oneself as a neutered expert. These strategies are not inherent properties of the people who use them. Rather, they are "repertoires of coherent possibilities for and permutations of action . . . [within a] loosely consistent, patterned" and gendered system of business relationships (Barley 1988: 181-2; see also Swidler 1986). While some respondents complained about the emotional and dramaturgical labor required to contort their personalities and bodies into something that men will feel comfortable with, others were proud of their competency in manipulating gendered stereotypes for their own ends.

After describing the three ideal types, I will compare them to the types Kanter (1977) found in female managers 20 years ago. I will suggest that these types may be loosening over time. Finally, I consider whether these strategies challenge or reinforce male dominance in American business.

Emphasizing femininity or female sexuality

One strategy was to try to turn gender difference into an advantage. If male respondents persisted in marking gender difference as significant, some female respondents decided to exaggerate and exploit this difference. One woman heralded the advantages of standing out and being memorable as the only person wearing lipstick in a sea of bland blue suits. Another said, "They [the men] are all carbon copies. So being the only element that is different is always a plus, if you can deal with it."

There were several overlapping versions of this strategy of emphasizing women's difference from men by exaggerating women's sexual competencies (as defined by U.S. culture). These strategies, or self- presentations, ranged from maternal to elegant to flirtatious to sexy.

The maternal women got and kept clients by taking care of them. These respondents offered sympathy and nurturing along with their financial service. The elegant women were stunning; they looked like mature models. They had expensive, conservative wardrobes and a self-contained, quiet poise.

Another approach was to be a stylish flirt. One respondent, a vivacious and trim 52-year old, told me about her elaborate strategies to appeal to male egos by being presenting herself as fashionable, fun, and coy.

I was successful at [my financial services firm] because they thought I was cute, sweet. . . . Most men are unhappy in their marriages. Most women are less attractive than I am. Men love to have an attractive women to present in public. That's very important to senior men. I'm not a threat to their image . . . I have paid for my clothes 1,000 times over. A lot of women would be more successful in their corporations if they paid more attention to their appearance.

[Women should] want men to be as comfortable as possible, to have him feel he is minimizing his risk in associating with a woman. There's a rapport among men that they don't have with women. They have to have a rapport with you. So, your appearance is important. Also, joking, listening to their stories, and not be business all the time. I get more done by not talking business. . . I tried being direct, and that didn't get anywhere. . . . [Now] I preface my requests by saying something like: 'You big, handsome man.' Now they won't let me go.

During our interview, this respondent cast a disapproving glance at my own outfit (a nondescript gray suit from Filene's Basement). She instructed me that the point of all this image-management is to flatter and coddle men enough to overcome their baseline lack of trust in female business associates and preference for male camaraderie.

Another version of the feminine strategy was to emphasize female sexuality. I interviewed a 52-year old president of a venture capital firm. She has mastered the art of rainmaking and boasts an impressive client list, including some of the country's largest financial, high-tech, and manufacturing companies. After our interview, I wrote:

She was 52 but looked closer to 42. She had a silky styled mane of gray hair and a great body. She was late to meet me because she had just rushed back from the gym. It was a little odd seeing such a toned body belonging to a 52-year old. She teetered around in high heels and a tight purple dress.

This venture capitalist would certainly stand out in a sea of blue suits.

A final example of emphasizing sexual difference comes from a successful rainmaker in a large firm. Here are some field notes from our two-and-a-half hour interview.

She was 47 and presented herself as very self-confident. She had wavy, dyed-looking blonde hair, a well made up, slightly horsy face, and husky voice. She wore a very short, low-cut red dress that showed more than a hint of her black bra and lots of cleavage . . . She's thin, tanned. . . . As the interview progressed, she talked about how she intentionally cultivates a sexy image, wearing her skirts "four inches shorter" than anyone else.

She said that her image has, over time, become "very deliberate" since she realized that "the way I dressed was part of who people saw that I am." She discussed her daily work-outs at the gym and thoughtfully constructed appearance: "Conservative isn't my look.. . . It's always been feminine and sometimes sensual." Her goal is to make the best possible impression with business associates and potential clients. "Nothing speaks more when you walk into a meeting at first than the level of confidence you bring into the meeting . . . How you look, your presentation, how you enter a room . . . All that kind of stuff says something about how you feel about yourself. It says something about the level of confidence you have in yourself . . . Why not look the best you can look?" A confident, sexy woman has an advantage when "working the room" and meeting new potential clients.

Toward the end of our interview, this respondent showed me a three-dimensional appreciation card a client had sent her after she had concluded a big deal. The card contained a barbie doll in a short, red dress. My respondent was thrilled with the card, because it confirmed that her carefully crafted image had registered in the eyes of her client and become her trademark.

One drawback to this strategy is that it requires policing the line between a woman's intentional flirtation to bring in business and unwelcomse sexual harassment. While sexual harassment was an issue faced by women across the sample, respondents who used the femininity/female sexuality strategy were more likely to discuss their explicit strategies for warding it off.

Several respondents try to prevent an occasion for sexual harassment from presenting itself by forgoing much of the after-hours socializing that male financial professionals routinely do with clients. Others socialize in the evenings only if accompanied by their spouse. For example, the respondent who gets business done by prefacing her requests with "You big, handsome man" discussed her strategies for thwarting sexual advances:

I put up a wall. I make it real clear that I don't deal with any of their sexual interests. I tell them all about my husband. I make it clear that he joins us for dinner. If I didn't, they'd always proposition me. Most men are unhappy in their marriages. Most women are less attractive than I am.

She spends a great deal of energy ensuring that the "wall" is necessary (by presenting herself as more attractive than "most women") yet not broached.

Others had more trouble maintaining the wall between being appreciated and being harassed. For example, the venture capitalist told me that in an earlier firm she had worked for, her boss became sexually obsessed with her in a disturbing way. Another woman was hounded and stalked by a boss until she finally quit the company to get away from him.

Acting like 'one of the guys'

A very different strategy is to de-emphasize one's femininity and try to fit in with the men by playing and watching sports, going out drinking, and using off-color language. This strategy includes a range of behaviors. In all of them, female respondents exaggerate their grasp of competencies U.S. culture defines as masculine.

One woman patiently explained to me that it alleviated men's discomfort with female business associates to discuss sports, a safe topic they knew something about.

[Men] have no idea of . . . what interests us. . . . That's why, if you start talking about [sports], then they don't have to worry about that. . . . I think it's important for women to know sports. I really do. . . . Cause you can end up building a relationship with somebody. . . . Then when the time comes, you have to deal with someone in the business setting or a business issue, I think you'll be able to relate better.

In addition to keeping up with sports, this respondent also went out of her way to learn the teasing and jesting that her male business associates enjoyed. "A sense of humor is real important. Kind of being able to joke around a little bit. Men love to joke around with each other. So you gotta try and get in there and joke around with them." She then tried to explain to me the difference between negative remarks that would not be considered funny and good-natured teasing that would give men favorable attention.

Many respondents played golf or attended professional athletic games with their clients. At sporting events, they entertained clients in catered boxes and chatted about business strategy during slow periods in the game. To illustrate, one woman reported: "It seems like banking is still kind of a man's job. The entertaining we do is baseball games, basketball games, football games and hockey games and golf. Men do what they like to do." This respondent enjoys football but admits that "baseball's gotta be the dullest. . . . But if you have a good customer, it's not too bad. It's sort of like small talk at a party. It's part of the job."

The woman in my sample who took the masculinity strategy to the farthest extreme was the general manager of a financial services company. She was a compact, no-nonsense blonde of 48. During our interview in her office, she would simply yell out into the hallway whenever she wanted more coffee. She had two unopened bottles of Jim Beam Whiskey displayed like trophies on her bookshelf. She talked about how her masculine persona affects her clients. "Developing new clients takes up to 25 percent of my time. Building those relationships. It is harder for a woman to have instant rapport. I'm a strong person. I have salty language. I like sports . . . [But] it's still difficult. Some men don't like strong women."

This woman's Jim Beam trophies contrast strikingly with Barbie doll appreciation card proudly displayed by the earlier respondent, who utilized the female sexuality strategy. Each woman self-consciously used an opposite cultural stereotype of sexual competency to connect with male clients, and each woman used her strategy very successfully. The goal of both strategies is to make male clients comfortable.

As the whiskey aficionado said, "it is harder for a woman to have instant rapport" with clients, who are by definition male. If "instant rapport" is impossible, these women strive for a calculated rapport. Respondents who adopted the "one of the guys" strategy tried to seamlessly insert themselves into the interactions of male business relationships. These women tried to make the male client forget that he was conducting business with someone unlike himself, so that the business relationships the women were so deliberately crafting would to naturally "flow out of" their social association.

Despite their elaborate attempts to portray themselves as like men, respondents continue to be rendered different by a male-dominated business world. Sometimes, female respondents found that male colleagues simply refused to relate socially to them, no matter how hard they worked at fitting in. For example, a banker described how she worked hard at developing "the personal friendship and the personal relationships" with her male colleagues by eating lunch and playing racquetball with them. Despite, or perhaps because of, her competence at the sport, one colleague became angry and struck her with his racquet.

I really had to work at maintaining the friendships, the personal friendship and the professional relationships. Got involved with the guys at work. I mean, that was important to do. The guys that ran the corporation. I had lunch with them . . . . It was either that or be isolated . . . I played racket ball with them once a week after work . . . until one of them became very aggressive, and I decided it was dangerous to be on a court with them, and I just quit playing. . . . He had never been in a situation where there was a woman . . . would think of going on a court with him and attempting to beat him. And he was just an aggressive person. Didn't like to lose and then neither do I. I mean, it wasn't worth it. . . . There's never a reason to hit someone with the racquet!

The problem of being the wrong gender extends beyond an occasional failed social interaction with an insecure male colleague. More generally, the assumption of and preference for a male business elite can exclude women from important business settings. For example, a financial services firm principal said that sometimes client firms' boards of directors object to hearing a proposal from a woman.

We had a situation last year . . . where one of my clients . . . would hear: 'This woman is doing a really good job, but please understand, I can't bring a woman into the board. We've go to put somebody on the team that I can have do a presentation for the board. . . because they just won't listen to a woman.'

Female finance professionals cannot work on these accounts without male colleagues, who will have the primary client contact and thus the best opportunity for future business development.

The assumption of and preference for a male business elite also bars women from some of the social outings so important for rainmaking. Even women who have strategically learned to play golf, hold their liquor, and appreciate professional sports are sometimes excluded. For example, the client of one respondent took the professionals who had helped him put together a deal to a male-only club. Another client invited the team who worked with him on a deal to play golf and forgot to invite the female executive who headed up the team. Several respondents complained that regional clients visiting the big city wanted to be taken out to see female strippers. One respondent, who tried to circumvent the strip shows by taking clients out to sports games, complained that it was awkward trying to talk business during half time while the clients were drooling over the cheerleaders.

The neutered expert

Some respondents did not have and did not care to learn the considerable skills required to act like one of the guys. For example, a partner in a public accounting firm said: "It's hard to build a strong relationship with a guy when you're a woman. I don't golf. I don't play tennis. . . . I'm not in the football pool." So she found it easier to adopt the strategy of a smart, reliable, technical expert.

I believe that I'm just very good at what I do, and that over time, if you work with me long enough, you'll come to appreciate that I'm honest, I'm sincere, I'm smart, I'll listen, I'll be there. . . . And isn't that what you want from someone who's selling you a service. You don't necessarily need your best buddy. You want somebody you . . . [will] tell it like it is. . . . And that's how I sell, and I'm very effective at it.

My old boss . . . was very skeptical about making me partner, cause he didn't think I could sell. After all, I'm technical. My strength was technical, not sales. I'm not a smoocher. I'm not a socialite. . . . I don't play golf. And he just didn't see how that's possibly ever gonna sell any business. And I said, trust me. Trust me, people will buy from me.. . . And it took me time. You don't build these kinds of relationships over night. . . . But now, . . . [my accounts are] such revenue generators.

To her former supervisor's surprise, she was able to convince clients that they were better off with a technical expert than with a golf buddy for an accountant.

My descriptive term "neutered expert" is an exaggeration. The women using this strategy did not appear completely sexless or androgynous; they were clearly presenting themselves as belonging to the female sex. But their muted self-presentations contrast markedly with the respondents enacting the femininity/female sexuality strategy. The experts tried to erase sexual tension from the business relationship altogether. The public accounting partner dressed for the part, in a plain, loose fitting, conservative suit buttoned up to her neck and covering most of her legs, heavy-framed glasses, and no makeup.

Once again, the point of this dramatic subterfuge was to make the men feel comfortable. This accountant related another story that confirmed for her the success of her strategy:

The guys [in the office] told me that they are generally uncomfortable mentoring women. And I said, 'well why aren't you uncomfortable with me?' And they said, 'well, no, 'cause I never thought of you as a woman.' I mean, you can view that as an insult or a compliment. I took it as a compliment . . . [The men] just viewed me as a person and therefore it wasn't uncomfortable for them . . . There was never any issue about whether I would take something the wrong way or think something might be inappropriate . . . or sexual harassment or politically correct.

We saw that an earlier respondent treasured her barbie doll appreciation card as vindication that she had successfully portrayed herself as a sexy fashion maven. Similarly, this accountant treasured her male colleagues' comment that they did not even think of her as a woman as evidence of her success in being someone whom men would feel no sexual tension from and would therefore find comfortable to work with.

A sub-set of the neutered expert is the specialist. With this strategy, women try to develop a reputation for expertise in a narrow, technical area so that people needing that knowledge will seek them out. For example, a securities consultant repeats the familiar refrain about how challenging it is for women to bring in business.

Women have the hardest time, when they walk into a room, and there is not the presumption that you know what you're doing. You have to prove yourself. Women have a tough time . . . getting new business. . . . I can't ask a man to play golf. And I can't ask them to dinner, because their wife would not approve.

This securities specialist lacks the social skills of gracefully entertaining married men that respondents with the first strategy have and the golfing ability of the women who use the second strategy. Despite her MBA and a JD from top schools and years experience, this woman feels that that her career is held back by her lack of social and athletic proficiency. So she leverages what she has: "a unique expertise in secured and unsecured financings in public and private offerings." This specialty is valued by her firm, which has made her a partner. Her academic credentials and professional experience are impressive. She tries to get more exposure by publishing and giving speeches in her areas of specialty.

This respondent appeared plain, wearing a conservative suit, short mousy hair, and no make up. She apparently did not embrace the opportunity to be the only person wearing lipstick in the business meeting. Her presentation of self contrasted vividly with the elegance or sensuality of those emphasizing their femininity and the jocular posturing of those trying to be one of the guys. The neutered expert strategy is striking in the calculated absence of conventional masculine and feminine presentations of self.

The purpose of all these highly gendered strategies is to remove men's discomfort with gender difference. They are deliberate, orchestrated tactics to make men think that their business dealings with these women are natural outgrowths of their natural conviviality and common interests. Yet while these strategies may help individual women infiltrate male business networks and climb occupational barriers, they also reinforce the symbolic boundaries that exclude women from the most senior finance jobs. Respondents who adopt the stereotyped feminine or exaggerated masculine strategies are highlighting the salience of gender in business relations, emphasizing the distinction between men and women, and reinforcing the assumption that ordinary women do not belong. Even the neutered expert strategy's denial of human sexuality also highlights the salience of gendered distinctions by problematizing the presence of ordinary (non-neutered) women.


My data cannot show us which strategy is most successful for generating business. Presentation of self is just one of many factors in one's capacity to bring in clients. (Others include firm type, the division of firm labor, market niche, local competition and the health of the economy.) Yet I can suggest that the range of strategies women adopt to compensate for being the wrong gender may be shifting over time.

One way to assess the degree of change is to compare my respondents' strategies with the sterotyped roles Kanter found in women among lower- and middle-management over 20 years ago. She maintained that dominant male managers formed four stereotypical role traps around token female managers: the mother, the seductress, the pet and the iron maiden.

[These roles] encapsulated the tokens in a category that men could respond to and understand. Each was formed around one behavioral tendency of the token, building this into an image of the token's place in the group and forcing her to continue to live up to the image; each defined for dominants a single response to the token's sexuality (Kanter 1977: 233).

Like the strategies my respondents adopted, Kanter's stereotypes were caricatured roles, emphasizing or masking some aspect of sexuality, that allowed men to relate more comfortably with female colleagues. Both samples used these roles or strategies to transgress gendered boundaries to male-dominated, desirable occupations. Although these strategies helped individual women cross the boundary, they also impelled women to continue conforming to the adopted role and reinforced the boundary barring ordinary, non-caricatured women from entering the occupation.

There are similarities and differences between the strategies my respondents adopted and Kanter's roles. Kanter's nurturing mother and the desirable seductress fit within my category of strategies emphasizing femininity or female sexuality. Kanter's pet was the role of a cute and girlish kid-sister who serves as a mascot to the guys. This role did not emerge clearly in my data. Playing the pet might be an effective strategy to a point but would ultimately be too self-effacing to be help my respondents reach the powerful positions they held.

Kanter's iron maiden described women who failed or refused to fall into any of the other roles and were thus isolated:

If a token insisted on full rights in the group, or if she cut off sexual innuendos, she could be asked, 'You're not one of those women's libbers, are you?' Regardless of the answer, she was henceforth regarded with suspicion . . . and with distance, for she was demanding treatment as an equal in a setting in which no person of her kind had previously been an equal. Women inducted into the iron maiden role were stereotyped as tougher than they are (hence the name) and trapped in a more militant stance than they might otherwise take. Whereas seductresses and pets, especially, incurred protective responses, iron maidens faced abandonment. They were left to flounder on their own" (Kanter 1977: 236).

We may see a vestige of the iron maiden in my data. Possibly my respondents' masculine strategy is an evolved version of the iron maiden in an era in which the stigma against women seeming tough and aggressive has weakened. Perhaps today, women who eschew flirtation and expect equal treatment may not rouse as much discomfort in men if the women compensate by behaving like a friendly pal. For my respondents, acting like one of the guys bridges the isolation that Kanter's iron maidens were consigned to.

There is a more general distinction between the two samples. Kanter emphasizes that token women get pushed into these roles; men assign specific women to these roles whether or not the women realize it. In contrast, women in my sample perceive themselves as more actively choosing, albeit from a limited menu, strategies based on their own competencies. Although some bemoan the necessity of acting out one of a small number of tawdry scripts, most are actively developing their dramaturgical skill so that they can better infiltrate male networks. These roles may still be traps, but my respondents are self-consciously selecting which one to adopt. Although the parameters of action are still highly constrained, female finance executives today may have more agency than the managers Kanter studied two decades earlier.

A second way to investigate possible changes in these strategies over time is to explore cohort differences in female respondents' strategies for negotiating the gender boundaries they confront. To do this, I divided my female sample into four cohorts. A different analysis of these data found that the period in which finance careers were launched mattered for women's advancement. Respondents of any age who entered finance careers after 1970 generally had a much more rapid career pace than those who started finance careers in the 1960s. And the youngest respondents, who launched finance careers directly after finishing college between 1974 and 1980, had the most focused career trajectories. Although these post-1973 graduates still faced gendered career barriers, they were less explicit than those confronted by older sample members (Blair-Loy 1999).

These cohort and age differences also matter for the rainmaking strategies respondents are likely to adopt. Table 1 presents three finance cohort divisions, defined by when a woman launched her finance career. Cohort 1 contains women who entered finance between 1960 and1969, before the 1970s women's movement (N=7). Cohort 2 includes those who entered finance between 1970 and 1973, during the crest of women's activism (N=10). Cohort 3 contains women who started finance careers between 1974-80, after the gains of the women's movement had begun to be institutionalized. Women in all of these finance cohorts are of varying ages, since about half graduated from college and worked in non-finance jobs for a few or several years before launching finance careers. I divided the third finance cohort into 2 groups: older cohort 3 members, who all worked elsewhere before starting finance jobs after 1973 (N=12); and younger cohort 3 members, who finished college between 1974 and 1980 and then moved directly into finance careers (N = 18).


With a small, qualitative sample, Table 1 is only suggestive. The vast majority of first, second and older third finance cohort members explicitly adopted one of the three stereotypically gendered presentations of self that this paper has analyzed. In contrast, under half of the younger third finance cohort members adopt a rainmaking strategy that I can clearly characterize as feminine, masculine, or the neutered expert. A third of both cohort 3 groups have self presentations that elude categorization as self-consciously gendered. And four members of the younger cohort 3 group have strategies that clearly combined at least two elements of the masculine, feminine or neutered expert approaches to personal business relationships.

These four younger cohort 3 members drew on a combination of gendered themes in their self presentations. Three of the four presented themselves as competent, no-nonsense experts who were also attractive by conventional standards. Unlike the women I have characterized as neutered experts, the "combination" women wore cosmetics and had long, shiny hair styles. These three women also adopted elements of the masculine strategy. They played golf, enjoyed professional sports, and seemed to have established comfortable friendships with male colleagues. One strikingly attractive respondent had a graceful athleticism that transcended conventionally gendered divisions. She listed her hobbies as golf, ballet, aerobics, and watching professional basketball. The fourth person in this combination category eschewed cosmetics and wore her hair very short and chic by business standards. She presented herself as an intelligent expert but with a palpable and androgenous sensuality.

One interpretation is that respondents who finished college after the gains of the women's movement began to be solidified and enjoyed more institutionalized access into finance careers (Blair-Loy 1999) also had more leeway in doing gender in at work. Members of the younger third cohort still face being the wrong gender in a male-dominated business elite. But they may be discovering that they can use less rigid or more androgenous interaction strategies to make men comfortable doing business with them. Respondents may be broadening the range of acceptable scripts. Further, the combination strategies may be more evidence of the decline of the stigma of masculine self-presentations in women since Kanter's analysis. Yet it is too early to tell if these newer strategies actually undermine the symbolic boundaries that highlight gender distinctions between women and men or if they simply renegotiate and represent these boundaries in new ways.


Male and female finance executives in my sample see financial technical knowledge as a straightforward, analytical skill, like math or science, which allows one to assess risk and opportunity in order to profitably shift money around in changing financial markets. Female respondents, who by definition have excelled in technical finance jobs, do not view abstract, technical knowledge as masculinized or unwelcoming. An important question for future research is whether a similar technical concept of expert knowledge is evident in other professions and, if so, whether those professionals also interpret their expertise as non-gendered.

Respondents of both genders agreed that technical expertise only gets one so far in financial services firms. Acquiring social capital in the form of client and referral networks is necessary to make money for the firm and to advance one's career. The heart of financial transactions lies not in financial expertise but in trusting human relationships. Future research should examine the extent to which cultivating business relationships is growing in importance in other elite service jobs and whether this affects women's advancement (cf. Block 1990).

In contrast to their consensus on those issues, male and female respondents had strikingly different experiences of what it takes to make rain. Most men I interviewed believed that cultivating business relationships was a natural outcome of a convivial personality. They strategize, but see these strategies as emanating from natural facilities. Male respondents were oblivious to the gendered arena in which rainmaking takes place. But virtually all the women in the sample struggled self-consciously and intensely with the challenge of developing trusting and comfortable business relationships. For many female respondents, rainmaking is the only barrier that still stymies them. As one said, rainmaking "takes a lot of energy, but if it doesn't seem to be paying off, you start feeling like you're pounding your head against the wall. . . . It has no connections [to how good you are]."

So these talented and highly educated women, success stories of liberal feminism, spend their energy spinning elaborate strategies to make men feel more comfortable doing business with them. These strategies allow my female respondents infiltrate male-dominated business networks and thus cross the symbolic boundary that would otherwise exclude them from the most powerful positions in the financial services industry. Almost two-thirds of my female sample create personae that either exaggerate traditional feminine competencies deemed desirable by many men, or emphasize traditional masculine attributes, or mask gendering with a display of technical expertise. These respondents are creatively using old cultural schemas in new ways in order to amass resources (cf. Sewell 1992). Yet their action is constrained by these rigidly stereotypical roles. Moreover, when individual women permeate business networks by using the feminine, masculine or neuter strategies that exaggerate or mask gender distinctions, they are reinforcing the symbolic boundaries that exclude most women from these networks and, thus, from elite finance jobs.

These strategies may be shifting over time. Compared to Kanter's sample, my sample seems to be playing these roles more self-consciously and efficaciously. Furthermore, stereotypes may be loosening, allowing female finance executives more freedom in how they establish business relationships. It is possible that newly emerging strategies may scramble the binary distinctions between masculine and feminine and thus begin to weaken the symbolic boundaries that maintain male dominance in the most powerful jobs in the financial services industry.


I thank Steven Vallas, Penny Becker and Michael Allen for helpful comments. I acknowledge the superb research assistance of Gretchen DeHart.


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Table 1: Female Respondents' Rainmaking Strategies by Cohort

Finance Cohort

Rainmaking strategies


Entered finance 1960-69 (col. %)


Entered finance 1970-73 (col. %)

3, older

Entered finance 1974-80 after work elsewhere (col. %)

3, younger

Entered finance 1974-80, directly from college (col. %)


3 (43%)

3 (30%)

4 (33%)

2 (11%)


0 (0%)

3 (30%)

2 (17%)

3 (17%)

Neutered expert

3 (43%)

2 (20%)

2 (17%)

3 (17%)






4 (22%)


1 (14%)

2 (20%)

4 (33%)

6 (33%)


Column total