Jamie Fiore Higgins, BULLY MARKET

Jamie Fiore Higgins, BULLY MARKET

Guest host Julianna Goldman interviews former bank executive, career coach, and debut author Jamie Fiore Higgins about her riveting and revelatory new memoir Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs. Jamie describes her 18-year banking career, detailing the abuse she endured as she ascended the ranks (like being mooed at for using the lactation room) and the slow unraveling of her character and morals. She also talks about life after quitting–from identity crises and full-time parenting to starting her own coaching business and bravely sharing her story.


Julianna Goldman: Jamie Fiore Higgins, author of Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs, thank you.

Jamie Fiore Higgins: Thank you for having me.

Julianna: Jamie, just to get started, I want to tell you how — this book was about a lot of things, but the word that I just kept coming back to in my mind was how brave it was. Bravo to you for calling out what you saw in a very open and honest way. Can you tell us and tell our listeners about Bully Market and what it’s about?

Jamie: Bully Market is about my eighteen-year career at Goldman Sachs. I started right out of college, undergrad. The big joke was I didn’t even know, really, what Goldman Sachs did. I actually wanted to be a social worker. I had battled some health issues as a kid and really appreciated doctors and nurses and physical therapists and social workers, so that’s what I wanted to do. My parents had different plans for me. I can’t blame them. They grew up in poverty and really wanted their kids to make the kind of inroads they had financially pulling themselves out of poverty. For them, the mantra was, every generation has to do better. My directive was, get the best-paid job possible. In 1998, that was Wall Street. Then of course, if you wanted Wall Street, you really wanted Goldman Sachs. I got there — forty interviews; four-zero — not knowing anybody. I started my career there. I did very well. I always like to say that I did well because I have a really good work ethic. I am smart, but I was really good at looking the other way and shutting up. What I observed was, during my career, having to do a lot of that, which really went against my morals. Remember, I wanted to be a social worker. In the end, the paycheck wasn’t really worth the pain. I risked almost losing my family, losing myself in the whole process, and finally found a way to return to myself back again, which meant leaving Goldman Sachs. This book is about my experiences and exploration of why I endured what I endured there, why I perpetuated what I perpetuated, and how I think that we really need to do better for the next generation of working women.

Julianna: I can’t wait to get into all of that. Why did you write it? Why did you decide to write the book? A lot of people would’ve had your experience and said, okay, I’m just going to go put the past behind me. Why did you decide to write a first-person account?

Jamie: It wasn’t my plan when I first left. What I found myself doing — I was really fortunate that I had this kind of sabbatical to enjoy my kids. When I left Goldman, I had four kids ages seven and under. I would share with people, anecdotes. I was a bit of a unicorn because either the moms were still working or a lot of the moms hadn’t worked in quite a while. Here I was forty years old, stopped working. People would ask me why. I would tell them little anecdotes about what I experienced, don’t get me wrong, knowing it was a little toxic, but seeing their incredulous reaction really showed me how it was a pretty extraordinary environment. Then around me, Me Too is happening, all these other social justice movements. I said, wow, we really live in a world now where there’s an encouragement for authentic stories, which was the polar opposite of my experience at Goldman. At Goldman, I was always kind of playing a part and lying and not being myself. I said, you know, I’m going to just put it out. I feel like this is really going back to returning to myself. I was a shell of who I was when I left Goldman. I always felt like I had a muzzle on because I was always looking the other way, not speaking up, not articulating my concerns. Now I’m doing a complete 180, ripping it off and just putting it all out there because I really feel like our stories are more similar than different. I feel like I’m not afraid of Goldman anymore. I’m not afraid of what anyone thinks of me. I really do feel like my story is going to help more people than it’s going to hurt me by maybe having some people who don’t know me that well think less of me. I’m okay with that.

Julianna: Did you have to sign an NDA when you left? How did you get around some of the privacy issues in the book?

Jamie: When I left Goldman, I left on my own, so there was no severance package or separation agreement with goodies. You always have to sign your life away for those goodies. I did have a managing director contract. The language was pretty punitive, but I actually brought it to a lawyer. The view was that we are all entitled to talk about our experiences. Under her direction — it was really aligned with what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to use anyone’s names. This isn’t about shaming anyone. This is about just bringing to light the type of environments that happen at a lot of these large institutions. Since I did not use anyone’s names, since I made composite characters, I compressed time for narrative pacing, that was all, from my attorney’s perspective, within my rights. Then my publisher agreed as well.

Julianna: Going back, let’s start to really dig into your experience. When did you feel like it started to change you? Was it 9/11? Was it before that?

Jamie: The environment really started to change my character when I got promoted. I don’t mean promoted to managing director, per se, but first got my first manager position. Don’t get me wrong. Before that, I observed a lot of the nonsense on the desk. I like to call it the white noise of Wall Street, the discriminatory comments, the sexist jokes, all that stuff. Once I was seen as a threat, that’s when I really feel like the abuse towards me, the ante was upped. Then therefore, the request from Goldman Sachs was for me to shut up. That’s when I really felt like, okay Jamie, now you’re in the big leagues. In order to survive, you not only have to deny the bad things that happen to you, but then also, when women would come to me with their own complaints, I was advised, listen, you could support her, but then it’s your head or hers. Who are you protecting? Well, young kids at home, I protected myself. I really feel like as I ascended the ranks, that was the, almost, erosion of my morals.

Julianna: You had just suffered a miscarriage, right? There was a pretty powerful moment where you said that there was part of you that was kind of relieved that you didn’t have children and you had this promotion. I felt like that was so relatable for any woman who wants to have kids but also is on a career trajectory.

Jamie: Yeah, that’s right. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage early on. I had to take just a couple days off work for a procedure. I got called into an office that next day that I was back. I was like, oh, my gosh, I’m going to be in trouble. I was offered this manager position. My partner said, “I hope there’s not going to be any distractions.”

Julianna: Wink, wink. Nod, nod.

Jamie: Wink, wink. Nod, nod. I had this twisted thought that I was glad I wasn’t pregnant. In my sick, twisted mind and in that environment, it was like that was the price that had to be paid. That was the sacrifice. My feeling was if that pregnancy had stuck, maybe I would not have gotten that initial manager promotion. I’ll never know.

Julianna: It also then speaks to the world and the culture that you were just getting sucked deeper into. When I think about these kind of cultures, it feels like quicksand. It’s hard not to be brought down.

Jamie: I think because not only are you making good money — for my family, that was a really big deal. I talk about making them proud, but also just the prestige of it all. Look at my kid sister working at Goldman Sachs. How did she get a job at Goldman Sachs? It was a job everyone wanted. You’re being treated poorly. You have to treat others poorly. At the same time, you’re filled with so much pride because of what you’re contributing to your family. It just puts you in a very difficult situation.

Julianna: Totally. Even once you had children, it just ignited that hustle fire even more, you write about.

Jamie: Yeah, because I felt like now — in those early years, I felt like I was making sacrifices for my family of origin. Now it was like I wanted to provide for the family I was creating with my husband. If I was giving up on hardly seeing them — I talk about how I had wanted to use the lactation rooms to pump for them. I was advised that that wouldn’t be a good decision for my career. I had to decide, what’s the best way to provide for your kids? Bonuses. Bonuses, not breast milk. I really, really wanted to focus on it. I think part of me, to make me feel okay with all I was giving up as a mother, at least I’d have this to show for it. I would have this title. I would have this career.

Julianna: When you talk about the lactation rooms, that reminded me of this one thread throughout the book that was so uncomfortable, which was the times that you would go to HR or employee services. There would be a backchannel back to your management or back to your boss. When you went and requested the lactation room, your boss said, “Oh, I hear you need the lactation room. You need to be on the trading floor.”

Jamie: I really think that situation really shows the kind of smoke-and-mirror campaign that happens at some of these large organizations. I do believe when I signed up for the lactation rooms and it ended up on some person in HR’s checklist, I’m sure she told my boss to follow up with me because the firm said, we want to support her. I think that was really probably what that person thought that he or she was doing. At the same time, it had the complete opposite effect. They have these processes in place. They have these people focused on this cause. Yet in reality, the opposite happens.

Julianna: Then later after your fourth child, you came back, and colleagues were mooing at you when you went back to pump. At that point, you were — I’d love for you to talk about this a bit more — empowered to say that you were going to do this on your own terms. After your first maternity leave, you were like, okay, I just am not going to breastfeed anymore. I can’t do this.

Jamie: That’s right. When I had my fourth, it was like, this is it. This is my opportunity to have this experience. Goldman has these lactation rooms. Damnit, I’m going to use them. I’m going to use them like they’re supposed to be used. At that point, other things that happened in my career that — I was feeling a little more confident that I didn’t care what they thought. I did use a lactation room. My partner never said anything to me. When I first started using them, I would find trinkets at my desk, milk cartons, a little stuffed cow, which was supposed to be a gift for my daughter. Then when I would get up, they would moo at me, gesture, the whole bit. When I finally got to those lactation rooms and used them, I noticed how they were really empty. It made me think, wow, there’s a lot of women who are making the same decision I did.

Julianna: That’s such an interesting observation. It’s such a bro-y culture. You write really honestly about navigating that bro-y culture and figuring out how to fit in. You alluded to this before. When other women would come to you and say, “How do I deal with this? This manager is taking these guys to strip bars, but he’s not doing anything for us,” you said, “Maybe he has something different planned for the women.” You write, “I tried to believe my words, but I knew better.”

Jamie: That was always that hard bit for me because there was still that part of me, that twenty-two-year-old who wanted to be the social worker, who wanted to help people, who wanted to support people, but I would lie because I knew, really, what was going on. What I found was in order to be successful at Goldman and to rise to those ranks, it was a lot about assimilation. It was basically just parroting and going along with whatever the person in power said. Even though I was a woman and, on some level, a role model for these younger women, I really wasn’t bringing my own sensibilities and perspectives to the table because anytime I tried to, I was pushed back. I had to toe the party line.

Julianna: Have you gone back to any of these women and apologized or talked to them about the shared experience?

Jamie: A couple women have reached out to me. The reactions were a little different. One was almost relieved. When she heard about what happened to me and how when I eventually did go to HR, when I finally did complain, how, as you had remarked, there were backchannels and I kind of got in trouble for it, this one woman reached out to me. She goes, “Oh, my gosh, now I understand what happened to my career. I was confused. I was experiencing this harassment. I didn’t know what to do.” She didn’t work for me at the time. I didn’t know at the time she had gone to HR. She had. We hadn’t talked. I had known something was going on. Without telling me she went to HR, she said, “Jaime, six months later, my reviews went down. Six months later, I was fired. I always wanted to figure out how I failed them. I tried so hard.” For this other woman, she had asked for my help. I tried to an extent. I went to bat for her. She was getting harassed by a male colleague. I went to bat for her. I was told she was just a drama queen. I pushed back a little bit more. I was told, “Listen, you have to stop helping these people or, you know what, it’s going to cost you. I’m calculating your bonus right now, so think again.” For her, she felt that I really did let her down. She was supportive. She’s like, “I’m really happy you wrote this book. I’m glad to see that these conversations are happening, but I got to remind you what happened to me.” I owned it because what I did was wrong. I’m just so glad I wrote the book, though, because now I really understand why and the bigger themes that were at play.

Julianna: I’m sure there’s catharsis. There is ownership. Going back to this theme of bravery, you wrote also about your affair with a boss. Talk about why you felt it was important to include that and also important to include the detail as well.

Jamie: For me, this book was really an exploration of how large organizations wield their power and how, in order to survive and thrive in some of these organizations, you really have to change who you are. For me, if I’m going to shine a light on this, I want to shine a light in every corner and crack. I didn’t want it just to be what I endured, but also the things that I did. My biggest regret was the infidelity. I felt like I needed to go there because it would’ve been disingenuous for me not to. That really was the moment that I — people say, when’s the moment that you knew it was time to leave? It was when my daughter called me when I was in the middle of carrying on with this guy. That’s really the moment. I have to say all of it. I think that’s really important. You can’t just tell some of it. I think if you’re really going to talk about how your morals and your character unravel, you have to talk about every bit of it.

That’s the point of these corporate situations, Julianna. It’s not just about work. It’s all-encompassing in your entire life. That, I really think is important to illustrate. You can’t be that type of person at the office that doesn’t help out women when they’re getting harassed or assaulted and then go home and be this happy-go-lucky spouse and mother. It takes its toll. It bleeds. What I found, too, even in my responses from my readers, I’ve heard from so many partners of people who work in these high-power jobs, whether in finance or consulting or law, and they’ve said to me, I understand my partner more because now I understand what they endure every day and how that’s eating away at them and why they’re acting the way they are at home.

Julianna: Do you feel like one of the people in your audience for this book was your husband?

Jamie: A hundred percent. Going back to the question about the attorney and stuff and making sure I was bulletproof in terms of Goldman, my biggest people were my parents, my siblings, and my husband and making sure that they were okay with it. Dan really went through a lot. For a guy who never even worked in their offices, that place had such an effect on his life. He’s been nothing but supportive. I’m so grateful for him and for our marriage therapist who really helped him and me understand that that infidelity had nothing to do with him or that guy. It was just an escape for a strung-out woman who was jamming her square peg into a round hole every day, day in and day out for eighteen years. She just snapped. It was a bad choice. It could’ve been other bad choices. It just happened to be the bad choice of this man.

Julianna: You talk about that escape with your work husband in the book, Pete. I always felt like it was leading up to something. I don’t want to give too much away. I thought that this was a fascinating storyline. For anyone who’s worked in this kind of corporate environment, you know you have your work wife, your work husband. It’s platonic, but there is a real comradery of being in the trenches together. Have you heard from him since this book came out?

Jamie: I have not. I talk about how our relationship unraveled in the book. I did reach out to him that following holiday season, wrote a letter trying to reconnect. Never heard back. I do google-stalk him. He’s doing what he wanted to do away from finance, away from Goldman Sachs, so I can only hope he’s happy. I certainly am being away from there.

Julianna: For women in finance, what do you think — we’re at this time now, five years after Me Too, almost three years since the start of the pandemic. What do you think has changed? Has anything changed for women in this industry?

Jamie: I think some things have improved. In my book, I talk about an assault that happened to me. I would like to think today that would not be tolerated at all. I have, though, heard from hundreds of people since my book has come out, many of them women, that a lot of these themes still are happening, especially issues around motherhood, motherhood being a disease, issues about HR and not being supportive. Even, I’ve had some women’s groups at different firms reach out and want me to speak. Then guess what? It gets pulled because of different pressures they’re under. I find it so fascinating that even when these women want to join together and have a conversation to talk about it, they’re being silenced now from it. I’m not being silenced anymore, but they’re being silenced. Then I laugh because a couple friends of mine were at a conference a couple months ago, and they were still going to strip clubs. A lot of this stuff is still alive and well. What concerns me the most is the reluctance to talk about it because if we don’t talk about it and share perspectives, that, to me, shows the bigger powers at play that really don’t want to make a change.

Julianna: I talk about this a lot. I think there is such power in personal narrative. When I’ve talked openly about my experience in TV news, and I know you talk about this in response to Bully Market, there is just so much power in people having their experiences and feelings validated. It empowers them to be able to speak up and push for change. That’s the Me Too movement. That is how change happens.

Jamie: Exactly. I’m hopeful. I’ve heard, like I said, from all these women who feel more power to ask for things, who are banding together with other women. I talk a lot in my book about, in my time at Goldman, the women, it was almost a zero-sum game where for one woman to succeed, another woman had to lose. There was a structure in place that kind of forced a minority so you couldn’t help one another. I think that’s changing. Certainly, people are starting to pay attention. I’ve seen a lot of great commitments from some firms. Looking back, I say, wouldn’t it be great if Goldman had said, wow, Jaime, this is quite a book. Let’s have lunch. Let’s talk about it. They just hired a new person in their HR department. Wouldn’t that have been an amazing opportunity to come talk about it, to really put situations on the table? Mine’s a unique story. I’m not suggesting every women at Goldman Sachs has had that story, or every woman on Wall Street, but it happens enough that I wish these large organizations would respond to these stories with a curiosity to explore it and try not to repeat history.

Julianna: Totally, but that acknowledges a problem. I’d love to talk about — your identity was wrapped up in your career and your life at Goldman Sachs. One day, that ended. You write a bit about figuring out yourself, where you belong, a mother of four kids. Right after you leave, you’re dealing with puke, diarrhea, your kid’s stomach bug.

Jamie: It was awful, the stomach flu.

Julianna: You’re like, maybe I should be back at work. What advice do you have for women who have children and are trying to figure out how to marry this ambition with what they feel they owe to their family and to their identity as a mother? How did you navigate that?

Jamie: When I left Goldman, I was so depressed. Even just being a managing director at Goldman, even though I never really bragged about it or anything, it just filled me with pride. That’s what I was. That was kind of what validated me. Then I felt like I was lost without it. Then I said, well, I got four kids, I’m going to throw myself into that. Then I’ll never forget that first fall, which is usually the time of Goldman Sachs’ review season. I said to my husband, “I think I need my first mom review.” He’s like, “What?” I’m like, “I’m home. I think I need to figure out how I’m doing.” He’s like, “What are we analyzing you on?” I thought about it for a second. I’m like, oh, my god, what do I analyze myself on? My kids’ grades? That’s bad. That’s not good. What I realized is, as women, we throw ourselves into these roles, spouse, mother, worker, and we don’t even carve out for who we want to be in this world. For me, my journey as an author was, I have to carve something out for myself that’s just mine that has nothing to do with my partner, that has nothing to do with my kids, that even has nothing to do with a paycheck. What is it? For me, I started writing. I started taking writing classes.

My advice to women — this is a problem women face whether they work outside the home or not. Then I have friends who, kids go off to college, and they’re like, what’s my identity? We have to make sure we have an identity that is completely independent from any person or organization. I think that happens with creating something new for yourself maybe while you’re working, or even if you are working, making sure you have a healthy boundary between who you are and what you do. Right now, I’m a creative. I’m a writer. I like to talk and have conversations. That can be monetized or not. When you approach your workplace, be like, you might work for X, Y, Z firm, but you really work for yourself, most importantly. You have that skill set and you have that knowledge base that is, right now, working out for your employer but also could be transferred to five other employers at any given time. I think part of it is also just a mindset, thinking of yourself as an independent entity and making sure you are doing things that align with the interests and the values of that independent entity, whether or not you get paid for it or not.

Julianna: I love that. CEO of self.

Jamie: CEO of self.

Julianna: Jaime Fiore Higgins, real quick, what’s next for you? Is there a sequel? Is Bully Market coming to a theater near you?

Jamie: Who knows? Maybe Bully Market will come to a theater near me someday. That would be cool. Right now, I’m really just enjoying any opportunity to spread the message and themes of the book, talking to amazing people like you. I’m in London. I’m going to be talking at a panel at the Financial Times conference about culture in banking. While I was writing the book, I also got my coach training. I work with professionals, women, men, all ages, all stages, to work on making sure that what they do aligns with who they want to be, again, in the workplace, at home, in hobbies. Any work I can do with my clients, speaking to you. I learned so many things from Goldman Sachs, but my big takeaway was I was successful because of who I was, not because of any one firm, any one person. I think that really resonates with a lot of employees today. A lot of employees, they feel stuck in their careers. I really enjoy working with them and getting them unstuck as well as just talking about the book. I really appreciate your time.

Julianna: If people want to feel unstuck, do you have a website where they can find you?

Jamie: Yeah. It’s jamiefiorehiggins.com. There’s a “contact me” and all that stuff.

Julianna: Fantastic. Jamie Fiore Higgins, thank you again. Thanks for your bravery.

Jamie: Thank you.

Jamie Fiore Higgins, BULLY MARKET

BULLY MARKET by Jamie Fiore Higgins

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