The problem with Citigroup’s offer of new hub for junior bankers in Malaga, Spain

Citi says Malaga analysts will be working on the same transactions as their counterparts elsewhere at the bank. You will only be assigned fewer of them and will be given time off in lieu if they have to work late or weekends to meet deadlines. Executives also promise that those who succeed in the two-year program will be offered promotions, including the option to take on more challenging, better-paying roles elsewhere.

“It’s not something we suddenly put out. We listen to what people tell us,” says Maria Diaz del Rio, chief of staff for the Citi unit that runs the program. “The industry is trying to change the culture, but the new generations are going further.”

The “mummy trail”

But the Malaga analysts could easily find themselves on a mixed version of the 1980s and 1990s “mummy trail” that distracted the careers of many women trying to balance parenthood with demanding jobs. Highly qualified women who reduced their working hours suffered significantly in terms of their long-term income compared to their male counterparts. (A 2010 study put the gap at 24 percent after 10 years.) They were also missing out on promotion opportunities, leaving them with a choice of dead-end jobs or leaving.

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Sexism was part of it, but even well-meaning banks, consulting firms, and law firms struggled to offer pioneering moms the traditional high-speed career path on and off the ramp. Most financial institutions are still struggling to retain and advance women in mid-career, and discrimination lawsuits continue to linger on the mummy trail. US law firm Morrison & Foerster settled one in March.

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In investment banking too, the seven-day week is still the norm, despite regular promises of reform. Younger recruits might want something different, but a tiny beach resort program isn’t going to change bosses’ expectations overnight. The participants risk resentment from colleagues and are permanently stigmatized as dubious.

To be fair, Citi is probably the Wall Street bank most likely to make such a flexible work program a success. Chief Executive Jane Fraser, the first woman to head one of the US giants, has personal experience of non-traditional ways of working. When her children were young, she went to consulting firm McKinsey part-time. She has also described the recovery phase of the pandemic as “a golden opportunity for companies to redefine their jobs”.

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Diaz del Rio believes that Malaga is the beginning of a broader cultural change. “I think London, Frankfurt and Madrid will be closer to Malaga than Malaga to them,” she says.

Maybe this is the wave of the Gen Z future. But Goldman received record applications for its much more difficult entry-level jobs last year, and British bankers have hailed the new government’s plan to remove the cap on bonuses because it will allow them to cut salaries and reward high achievers. With investment banking fees falling and a recession looming, the pressure on juniors to prove themselves will only increase.

financial times

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