From Bryn Mawr to Goldman Sachs: One woman’s story of success — and harassment — on Wall Street

A long-running class action gender discrimination lawsuit against Goldman Sachs may go to trial this year, containing allegations of bias and predatory behavior at the vaunted Wall Street firm.

It’s the culmination of years of toxic culture, according to ex-Goldman executive Jamie Fiore Higgins. In a new book, released Tuesday, she exposes what she claims is a deeply troubling environment — one where employees are expected to act as if families don’t exist and unwanted sexual advances not only happen but are covered up.

In Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs (Simon & Schuster), the former Goldman Sachs managing director pulls back the curtain on an organization she claims is focused rightly on profits, but also turns a blind eye to out-of-control, lavish parties; rampant drug use; and a discriminatory culture holding back the few women and people of color at the company.

Born at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Fiore Higgins and her parents lived in Cherry Hill until she reached kindergarten. Her father worked as a pharmaceutical salesman around Greater Philadelphia. The Fiores moved to northern New Jersey, then she returned to the area to attend Bryn Mawr College, graduating with a degree in mathematics. Now married with four children, Fiore Higgins still summers in Ocean City, N.J. She’ll speak about her career and the book at Bryn Mawr on Oct. 13.

Fiore Higgins talked to The Inquirer about leaving Goldman in 2016 and backlash surrounding her story. Answers have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

People appreciate the fact that I’m very explicit. I’m the victim of a toxic environment, but I perpetuated it. Some horrible stuff happened to me, but I did stuff I’m not proud of, and that honest view resonates. And it resonates beyond Goldman Sachs. It really shows in a lot of ways there’s a scarcity mindset in certain industries. That zero sum game doesn’t bring out camaraderie.

I was surprised at all the messages, from Wall Street women, men, and some Goldman employees who are still there. Others said they wanted to stand up but non-disclosure agreements kept them silent. Some said ‘thank you for giving voice to it.’ It felt validating, and a little sad that this is still going on. One of my very good friends said, ‘We’re supporting you with our silence, we can’t do more than that’.

No. Some people’s real names are mentioned; some are composites. I really feel it isn’t about revenge but about shining light on the environment. I left in 2016, and I had all these journals. I normalized what happened, even though I knew it wasn’t right. Then the #MeToo movement happened and that put it all in a different light.

My husband overall is really proud of me. We’re putting it all out there. We celebrated 18 years of marriage last month. We always say [leaving Goldman] was the best thing that ever happened to us. It forced us to knock down and rebuild. But we’re both focused on the potential benefit of the message. He’s seen me outside of Goldman, and that I’m a very different person.

The choices I made [while working there] were coping mechanisms to deal with that environment. The bad choices I made, the usage of Xanax, infidelity, and not supporting women. I’m not proud of it.

Yes. But let’s get women prepared to understand what’s expected of them. If those promises don’t match, then speak up about it.

While I was writing the book, I also got coaching training. I like to be involved in womens’ careers. I have clients who are women in finance and college grads. And some women who want a second act and don’t know where to start.

The women I coach are experiencing what I experienced but #MeToo has helped the obvious issues. Would the assault on me be tolerated? I hope not.

Business principles, fancy talking points, the employee handbook … the intentions sound good, but what’s getting lost between those people and day to day? The execs don’t walk the floors a lot. There’s a big disconnect between what they say and what it really is.

When the Goldman class action was filed in 2010, I was in the thick of it. I was working my butt off. In my mind, I minimized it. It’s amazing what we tell ourselves. But with time and space away, and seeing the world through clear lenses and not Goldman-distorted lens, writing the book has been incredibly helpful for my own understanding.

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