Running With the Bulls

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Every year I watch and read about the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and I wonder why people subject themselves to the torture and chaos. Who could possibly enjoy running from a large angry animal while wearing a color that angers the animal? What is not lost on me when I see the photos of the event, though, is that the streets are filled predominantly with men. I also know that according to tradition, only the bulls or the male cattle run and not the females or the cows, which means that during this event, the streets are filled with men running on either two or four legs.

Working on a trading floorlooks and feels a lot like the running of the bulls, there are a bunch of men jockeying for a prime position on the floor while trying not to get gored by someone bigger or more powerful. Also, just as you do not see many women on the streets of Pamplona, you do not see many women on the trading floors of financial institutions.

If hiring managers and human resource professionals wonder why more women do not want to work on the trading floor, they could learn a lot from watching the running of the bulls. I think that most women who work on a trading floor do not want to be treated differently than the guys on the floor, yet at the same time, there are challenges that are inherent to the environment.

Just as it would be difficult for a woman in heels to run on the cobbled streets of Pamplona, it is sometimes difficult for a woman in heels to keep up with the stress and pace of the trading floor environment.

A great deal of what happens on the trading floor takes place quickly and is almost a knee jerk response to something, which could be a trade, an earnings report, a client request or a political event. Frequently these actions take place with no follow up dialogue or teaching opportunities. I know plenty of men who have "learned the ropes" this way and just accept what they are watching unfold. However, I know many women who get frustrated by watching and not learning or understanding what is taking place.

Desire to debrief
It should be no surprise to anyone, but women like to talk, and we like to talk about what happened, debrief from the experience and learn from it. Most traders would not indulge in this conversation.

Questions and conversation are not really encouraged on a trading desk, and the sad thing is that everyone misses out on a learning experience. Just as it would not be ideal to stop running while bulls are chasing you, I understand that it is not optimal to stop trading activity in the middle of the day; however, you should schedule time for discussion at the end of the day when the dust settles.

I had a wonderful boss when I first started out who let me listen in on calls with clients. He asked me to take notes during the calls throughout the day and then he would ask me what I did or did not understand when he had a moment to breathe. He provided a safe environment for me to ask questions and risk looking dumb in the hopes of teaching me along the way. I learned so much from this boss, and I am grateful for the time that he took to help me understand what was happening around me.

There are numerous ways that the trading floor environment can improve for women, and more conversation and dialogue around the desk activities is just one of those. Instead of rushing for the train or car home at the end of the trading day, take a few minutes after the dust settles and answer questions based on what happened throughout the day.

Encourage a time for dialogue and debrief in a small group environment. You will not only teach the new person on the desk (male or female), you may actually get some ideas from this person and develop better strategies down the road. The better trained your runners are, the more likely they will succeed when the bulls are released.
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