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Why I quit Goldman Sachs

Lindsay MacMillan   

Why I quit Goldman Sachs
Finance8 min read
Women keep leaving Goldman Sachs. What's going on?    Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images; Alyssa Powell/BI

Goldman Sachs has a problem.

Only 29% of the 2022 partner class was women — just slightly more than the previous two classes — and a flood of women leaders have recently taken their talents elsewhere. Dina Powell McCormick, head of sovereign business and sustainability efforts, left last year. Beth Hammack, a longtime partner, exited after she was passed over for the CFO role. Stephanie Cohen, once a likely CEO successor, left in March after 25 years. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that two-thirds of female partners had left or lost the title since 2018. The same was true for only 50% of male partners.

Two years ago, I joined the ranks of the women leaving Goldman. My career propelled me from an intern to a vice president in just six years, but it wasn't a walk in the park. I didn't feel like my innately feminine, sensitive self could cut it at Goldman, so I stashed her aside and stepped into an alternate persona. Under my desk, I would keep a pair of black pumps that I called my "Hollywood heels." When I put them on every morning, I channeled a thick-skinned character who thrived in a man's world.

It worked, but it was draining. Eventually, I decided I'd had enough; I left to write novels and build my own coaching and consulting business. It's been liberating to work in my authentic style, and it's made me realize how much of myself I was keeping small while at Goldman.

The lack of female leadership in the financial industry is nothing new, but many companies have been making strides. Citi has a female CEO and surpassed its 2022 goal to increase the number of women in leadership positions. Morgan Stanley has steadily increased its share of women in senior management. And two women are likely candidates to succeed JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. But at Goldman, the problem has only gotten worse.

In 2023, Goldman paid $215 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 2010 that alleged it had discriminated against thousands of female employees. Earlier this year, CEO David Solomon told the Journal: "Advancing women into our most senior ranks is an area where we have not accomplished our goals." But as I watch senior women continue their exodus from Goldman, I'm not sure the company actually wants to change.


Bringing women in the door isn't Goldman's problem — in its most recent hiring report, 50% of its entry-level analysts were women. The problem is that it can't keep women, especially those in leadership roles, around.

In my first role, I was the only woman investor on a team of 20 men. Without role models to reflect different ways to be a leader, I felt like I had to mimic the masculine way to succeed. I wore a pantsuit and muted my personality; I played golf, talked football, and cried in the bathroom stall so I wouldn't be seen shedding tears at my desk. My out-of-the-box ideas were discouraged. I was told to stick to the Excel templates and precisely formatted PowerPoint decks, and to stop using exclamation points in my emails. My schedule was whatever the male leadership pushed: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and long hours most weekends.

Many financial firms have a rigid culture, but Goldman's takes it to the next level — and women tend to bear the brunt.

When I took my first week of vacation after being at Goldman for over a year, my manager lectured me for not replying to emails or updating financial models during my personal time off. I told him that I had been hiking off the grid with my mom and hadn't had much cell service. "Next time, choose a vacation spot with better reception," he told me. Jaw clenched, I agreed.

Many financial firms have a rigid culture, but Goldman's takes it to the next level — and women tend to bear the brunt. Take the firm's strict return-to-office policy as an example. While many companies have modernized to embrace hybrid and remote work, Goldman has not. This disproportionately hurts women, as research has found women are more likely to thrive and stay at companies longer when they have hybrid and flexible working environments. In a 2023 survey by International Workplace Group, 72% of women polled said they would look for a new job if their company took away their option for hybrid work. And a recent McKinsey survey found that two of the top priorities for the women in the poll when picking a job were the ability to work remotely and control when they work.

Rather than changing its "be in the office every day and grind it out" culture to better suit women, Goldman puts the onus on us to change ourselves to fit the model.


Jacki Zehner, a former Goldman partner turned CEO of the women's networking platform ShePlace, recently wrote about the company on LinkedIn. The biggest reason women leave, she said, is "not feeling valued."

This resonated with me. Feeling — and being — undervalued means women miss out on promotions. McKinsey calls this the "broken rung": For every 100 men promoted from an entry level role to manager in 2023, only 87 women were promoted, according to their survey of 27,000 workers in the US and Canada. This disparity out of the gate creates a leadership-pipeline problem down the road.

While leadership styles vary from person to person, research suggests that women and men tend to lead differently. In her book, "When Women Lead," the CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin says women are more likely to lead with empathy, vulnerability, gratitude, communal leadership, and a greater sense of purpose. Boorstin's reporting found that women were more likely than men to invest in mentorship and have more diverse teams. The differences translate to financial results: In a recent study, McKinsey found that companies with at least 30% female leaders tended to outperform financially.

Goldman says it understands the importance of female leadership. "When women lead, everything changes," its corporate site says. The company offers a women's network, encourages male allyship, and talks a big game about diversity. But Goldman leadership seems to want the benefits of gender diversity without the hard work of supporting diverse leadership styles. For all the talk, I never noticed it trickle down to how it actually felt to work there. My female coworkers and I talked about it frequently — Goldman was squandering our talents by making us conform to the small box of how finance was supposed to be done. It felt like they were glad to have recruited such bright, multidimensional women but had no interest in empowering our gifts.

When we contemplated what it would take to rise into the senior ranks, we knew we would be compromising too much.

As I moved up at Goldman, I tried to incorporate more of my true self at work, whether that meant letting out my bubbly laugh or writing a "Goldman Sachs joy newsletter" to boost morale. Many colleagues appreciated my style, especially when I worked for a year in the London office. But in New York, I met resistance. When colleagues found my poetry on Instagram, they made negative comments to me about how emotional the poems were. When I brought in cookies for my team, I was told I should have been building financial models instead of baking.

These are small examples, but that's where bias often lives — in the million little ways women are told to tweak themselves to be more like men. The implication is that our way is lesser. I became a VP at 28, but I was burned out — not from the work itself but from the parts of me I had to dim along the way. The internal balancing act pushed me out.

Nearly two dozen of my women friends at the VP and managing-director levels have also left Goldman to join companies — or start companies — where they have more freedom, whether that means hybrid work, greater autonomy, or the ability to be promoted based on the quality of their work, rather than who they knew.

Goldman was a great place for us to start our careers, but when we contemplated what it would take to rise into the senior ranks, we knew we would be compromising too much.


From what I've seen, the C-suite men who reinforce Goldman's culture generally have good intentions. They assume that because their way worked for them, everyone else should follow suit. But when a woman doesn't fit the typical pattern or mold for CEO or partner, she's passed over.

As more women leave Goldman, the business itself suffers. Data shows that companies in the top 10% financially have more women in leadership positions. These companies excel because their women leaders act differently. Sometimes they see things that others miss. Just look at the 2008 financial crash.

If Goldman can manage to grow its ranks of women leaders, more women will follow. Deloitte found that for each woman added to a financial firm's C-suite, there's a positive, quantifiable impact on the number of senior women in levels just below the C-suite. We all need role models to show us what's possible. Women like Asahi Pompey and Yassaman Salas, Goldman partners whose commitment to being themselves radiates like a superpower, and Rebecca Anderton-Davies, a managing director who also shines as an author and yogi, show me there's hope.

Since I left two years ago, Goldman has been good to me. They bought copies of my book and hosted me to speak with interns. But when one intern asked how I "brought my full self to work" — one of Goldman's favorite slogans — I sidestepped the question. The truth was, I didn't bring my full self. Most of the time, I kept my feminine side tucked away, and I was rewarded for it.

Since leaving, I've been able to let my full self shine. I delivered a TEDx talk comparing Wall Street dealmaking to modern dating — something I would not have had the autonomy to do if I were still at Goldman. And rather than matching my schedule to Goldman's rigid model, I'm able to honor the natural ebbs and flows of my productivity. My feminine side is no longer a liability; it's an asset. I lead creativity and breathwork workshops, write women-centered novels, and mentor clients to help them build their dream careers.

I'm grateful to Goldman for launching my career, but it has a lot of room for improvement. And until it turns things around, don't be surprised when talented women keep walking out. We know there are other places we can go.


Lindsay MacMillan is an author, speaker, and coach.




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