Maybe you’ve been toiling away on Wall Street for 10-15 years but have never earned one ounce of respect. Maybe you’ve been on the job for a matter of months, and have yet to be given more responsibility than picking up your boss’s lunch (a job that you came perilously close to losing several weeks ago for reasons we won’t get into here). Maybe you’ve been working at, say, Goldman Sachs, for several years now and are still addressed as “Hey, you.”
You could put your head down and keep grinding away at the hopes of one day being recognized for your contributions to the financial services industry. You could march up to your boss’s desk one day and say “Hey, I’ve got a name you know!” You could develop of a network of corporate insiders and then give Steve Cohen a call. Or you could simply start forgoing the razor and let your facial hair talk for you. What will it say? That you’re a god damn force to be reckoned with.
It may not be true for everyone in finance, especially when you move away from the heart of Wall Street, but, in general, bankers and traders are a conspicuously clean-shaven lot. In fact, I was unable to find a bearded banker to talk to me for this article. I asked several colleagues in DealBook to help me track down one of these rare birds. Invariably, they came up with Lloyd C. Blankfein, the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs, who caused quite a stir this year when his beard that drew stares in Davos stayed put in New York. But Mr. Blankfein is a high-level outlier, as are other men named by my colleagues: Gary W. Parr, vice chairman at Lazard; Jon S. Corzine, former chief of MF Global; and the deal-maker Carl C. Icahn. That Mr. Blankfein has a beard “just shows his alpha status,” Dr. Peterkin said. “He is at the absolute top of his game, and he gets to do what he wants.” [...] I stood outside Goldman headquarters one night last week around closing time, to see if I could spot any beards. At first I thought I saw quite a few, but then I realized they were 5-o’clock shadows. A very few men did appear to sport true beards, and I had questions for them: Did they work for Goldman or were they just passing through? If theirs were beards of long standing, did their whiskers serve as a kind of calling card, and were they commonly known as “that banker guy with the beard”? But none of these very few men would stop to talk when accosted on the sidewalk to discuss their facial hair.
Companies can ban beards as part of their dress code to keep up a certain image, said Jennifer Sandberg, a partner in the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips, an employment law firm. And an employee can challenge that ban if he (or she, for that matter) argues that a beard is legally protected because of religion, race, disability or gender. Employers can also ban beards for safety reasons, but that’s no issue on Wall Street. So I dare you, if you are an extraordinary man of finance, to grow one. It’s a way of saying: “I’m good enough at what I do and I’m honest enough — and I look so incredibly handsome this way — that I can get away with it.”
(And on the off-chance that it doesn’t, and that it is not actually appreciated, hopefully it will say “Please don’t fire me.”)