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Jamie Fiore Higgins' book, "Anonymized Allegations", is a condensed and anonymized retelling of her 18-year career at Goldman Sachs. She alleges she experienced demeaning and sexist comments from colleagues, and was once physically assaulted. A Goldman Sachs spokesperson said the company "strongly disagrees" with the characterization of its culture described in the book.
Jamie Fiore Higgins didn't leave her job at Goldman Sachs planning to reveal the most personal, demeaning and, at times, outright scary moments from her 18 years at the investment bank.
But after resigning in 2016, having risen through the ranks to become a managing director, the second-highest role behind partner, conversations with people from outside of that world made her realize how shocking some of the things she'd experienced were.
In her book "Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs," published last summer, she chronicled the events.
She recalls being told she had only been promoted "because of [her] vagina," and a series of junior male colleagues making clear they would not respect her authority. Some anecdotes, from her early days in the late 1990s but also later, were sexist comments and inappropriate actions she characterizes as the "white noise of Wall Street."
She says that she witnessed sex and drug-taking in the office, as well as work socials being held in strip clubs. She notes that some of the people featured in the book, who are all given pseudonyms, are composites of various people she knew. Additionally, the timing of some events has been compressed.
"We strongly disagree with the characterization of our culture described in the book. The fact is, we have a diverse set of employees and a culture that welcomes all points of view," the spokesperson said. "The anonymously sourced allegations in the book do not reflect our culture or how we do business."
The spokesperson told CNBC that if Ms. Higgins had raised these allegations with their Human Resources department at the time, they would have investigated them thoroughly and addressed them seriously. CNBC could not independently verify any of the accounts made in the book.
Despite the company offering rooms for breastfeeding, Fiore Higgins was once told that using them would hold back her career. And when she did use them after having a child, colleagues made "mooing" noises at her, performed crude gestures, and left a stuffed cow on her desk.
She recounts removing a colleague from an account who was having an affair with his client. She says he responded by pinning her against a wall and shouting into her face, spraying her with spit as he threatened her.
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"I've received hundreds and hundreds of messages from people, even now six months out," she told CNBC. "Every day I get one or two saying thank you for telling this story. There's so much of what you have experienced that resonates with me."
Fiore Higgins is also up front about the fact that she was there for so many years, in a senior role reached by far fewer women than men. She writes that she was "tolerating and perpetuating harassment and abuse" and being "complicit in a broken system."
"For those 18 years, I cared more about Goldman Sachs than I did my husband, my kids, my parents," she told CNBC.
She said that staying for so long despite being pushed near breaking point multiple times came down to a variety of factors. Contributing to her working-class family's finances and making her immigrant parents, who had faced their own struggles and placed pressure on her to succeed, proud.
In the book, when she first tells them about her six-figure salary in their New Jersey living room, her grandma drops her knitting needles in shock. Within a few years Fiore Higgins is on a million-dollar salary (though this, she says, was just one dollar more than a man working below her was earning at the time).
The dangling carrot of a mammoth bonus was common across the financial industry.
There was the fear of recrimination; the normalization in the office of things that would appal an outsider; and addiction to the prestige of being "Jamie from Goldman."
She said that what she realized was that Goldman was good at making people feel like they were nothing without Goldman, nothing without their name, and nothing without their money.
I was always the black sheep of my family. I was the one who was always doing things differently and going against the grain. My family is very traditional, and I was always the one pushing the envelope and testing the limits. I never really fit in with my family, and I always felt like an outsider.
I was always the odd one out in my family. I was the one who was always doing things differently and going against the grain. My family is very traditional, and I was always the one pushing the envelope and testing the limits. I never really fit in with my family, and I always felt like an outsider.
She eventually left because she reported an incident to HR. She witnessed a colleague racially and homophobically abusing a bartender and decided to speak up.
"Months later, my review tanked," she told CNBC. "I knew they were going to make me pay for speaking out of turn and going against the family."
"We have a zero tolerance policy for both discrimination and recriminations against employees for reporting incidents, and any HR report is investigated thoroughly," a Goldman Sachs spokesperson told CNBC.
In her account, Fiore Higgins represents one person's experiences over a set period of time. However, she notes that others have spoken up about their experiences as well; it is just that it remains rare, and "taboo," in her words, to go into such detail.
"We dispute the claims in the Bloomberg article. We take seriously our obligation to foster inclusion and diversity within our firm, and believe we have strong policies and practices in place to achieve that goal," said Kathy Ruemmler, a top Goldman lawyer, in a statement to CNBC at the time.
Goldman Sachs is currently facing a class action lawsuit from 1,800 plaintiffs who allege that the bank paid women less than men and held back their performance reviews. The trial is scheduled for June. Goldman Sachs has denied any wrongdoing.
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Companies have been making efforts to promote diversity on paper, due to the #MeToo movement and wider societal forces, as well as efforts from some senior managers.
"Things have improved in some areas, and there is a genuine desire among the C-suite to prevent systemic and casual discrimination," said Fiore Higgins. "But institutions like Goldman could still apply the full force of their analytical and metric-setting skills to boost the number of women making it to partner level, and create the kind of inclusive environment studies have shown can boost a company's bottom line."
She's also conscious of the importance of sending a message to some of her readers, including finding a trusted advisor who is not involved with the company.
"I've had the opportunity to talk at a couple of universities," she said. "I've spoken to people who were like, 'I got a job offer, I read your book, I'm afraid to go.'"
"I didn't feel that Goldman's 'Minds Wide Open' marketing campaign was genuine. It felt like a sales pitch rather than something I experienced while working there."
"I tell my students that they need to be aware of what is possible and be prepared with the language to respond to and react to these things."