Girls in finance are under extra pressure to lose weight and keep in shape

‘A young, athletic, slim and typically male body is the marker of professional identity’

Finance is dominated by men. The industry’s cultures and practises benefit young male employees; often, ambitious female graduates are overlooked. And now, there is another reason for them to feel inadequate: a study from the Scandinavian Journal of Management has revealed that women in banking are under (more) pressure to stay in shape.

Researchers interviewed staff at consulting firms in London and Europe, asking them whether they felt pressure to stay in shape. Its results present a dispiriting picture for women.

The Journal argues that the image of a young banker or consultant conjures an athletic, 20-something man wearing shoes and a pocket watch that’s almost as expensive as his flat. Girls are immediately disadvantaged on the grounds of gender.

“The female body is constructed as weak, overflowing, uncontrollable and excessively sexual, thus not professional,” the report reads. “Women are therefore particularly concerned with displaying a fit professional body as an indication of discipline, endurance and control. As research has pointed out, this may produce certain  discriminatory effects. In the context of professional identity, the presentation of what is regarded as a male professional body,  the ideal of a desexualized, rational and disciplined body is dominant.”


The study explained:

“A certain kind of professional body, namely a young, athletic, slim and typically male body is prevalent in the companies’ advertising and recruitment campaigns. This becomes a marker of professional identity, bringing about discriminatory effects in terms of gender and age.”

Nora, one of the analysts questioned, admits, “everyone is trying to run ahead, so you have to join the race to be able to survive.” Nora quite literally ran ahead: she volunteered to run the London Marathon this year, though she’s never even jogged before. She admits she got into running to fit in with the corporate culture. “It seems to be part of the consulting thing”.


These roles demand a lot. Health and fitness is consistent with the competitive, high achieving remit of the City (one bank genuinely hired a martial arts guru); as is hard-partying (the hideous, exclusionary “work-hard-play-hard” proposition). However, the study also finds that stressed and exhausted workers must also always be ready to work, at almost no notice. This presents a lot of balls to juggle.

Adding unreasonable body expectations to the febrile conditions of long hours and overtime, can put workers in an impossible position – so much so that they start reneging on certain expectations. One consultant named Anna confesses that she has “sacrificed” her health. “You sit still all the time, you eat unhealthy food and you don’t have the time to exercise.”