There is a growing acknowledgement of the lack of women in Wall Street. Last Monday, Tim Geithner opened a symposium being held in DC about women in Wall Street by discussing how women make up only seven percent of Fortune 500 chief executives and two to three percent of finance-related chief executives.
And in light of those facts, there’s been quite a bit of speculation about what would happen if women “ran Wall Street.” In studies that simulate a Wall Street environment, risk-taking was correlated with high testosterone levels, which indicates that men, having much more testosterone than women, are prone to be larger risk-takers. However, what is interesting is that testosterone can be mediated.
One of the most fascinating things about testosterone is the way it can be influenced by the environment. A man who stays home with his kids, for example, is likely to see his testosterone level drop over time. Testosterone varies throughout the day, peaking in the morning and gradually ebbing through the afternoon. Perhaps not surprisingly, single men have higher levels than married men. If you eat more meat, it tends to be higher. As it does when a man is in the presence of an attractive woman, or looking at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Or in a highly competitive environment with other guys, like a rugby game—or the Bear Stearns trading floor.
So not only do men dominate Wall Street, creating an environment full of testosterone, but that very environment creates more testosterone. Women, who tend to take fewer risks, classify themselves as more conservative traders, and were less caught up in the euphoria of the financial bubble. John Coates, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in neuroscience and finance, has said that if women made up half of the financial world, there would be fewer “volatile swings” in the markets. Women would serve to temper all that testosterone.
I think that this is really interesting in light of the current global financial situation, but also in terms of Judaism. Judaism has typically been male-dominated, going all the way back to Abraham, and especially during the Rabbinic period. But to me, Judaism doesn’t seem to be particularly “risky”; Judaism does not encourage being driven to passionate behavior because of your emotions, but rather following a rather strict set of laws. But perhaps this lack of risk is because of those laws—Judaism encourages self-control by regulating how and when you perform most of your daily tasks. Maybe Judaism’s strict laws have served to prevent the testosterone take-over that occurred on Wall Street. If only the traders on Wall Street had some kind of law code regulating their behavior…