Sandals on Wall Street

Goldman Sachs Dress Code Image

This summer, Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs made waves by relaxing its historically rigid dress code. Since July, Goldman employees in technology and engineering departments have been permitted to wear  “totally casual” clothes to work. It’s speculated that that this move was an effort to capture and retain talent that tends to opt for west-coast firms like Alphabet, Uber, and Facebook. Moreover, Goldman’s status as a leader in the banking industry has put pressure on firms like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase to follow suit.

Goldman Sachs has restructured itself in the years since the 2008 Financial Crisis to comply with a far more controlling regulatory environment. As such, it has focused on internally developing technological solutions to support its Broker-Dealer business. With this focus has also come a shift in the composition of the firm. The largest division at Goldman Sachs is now the Operations and Engineering Division, with over a quarter of the firm’s 33,000 employees  being engineers. Though it may not be the first company computer science and software engineering graduates may apply to, Goldman Sachs is undoubtedly a major employer of technology talent.

The largest division at Goldman Sachs is now the Operations and Engineering Division, with over a quarter of the firm’s 33,000 employees being engineers

However, the financial services industry has a well-deserved reputation for high levels of stress, poor work-life balance, and ruthless meritocracy.  By way of comparison, an employee at Google is offered free yoga classes and lunch. As such, Goldman’s corporate culture of competition, long hours, and formal dress fails to appeal to a large portion of tech talent. However, Goldman hopes that, by relaxing some of its rules, it can compete with the likes of Facebook and Alphabet to hire top engineering talent. Though Goldman will still draw heavily upon its strong reputation, prestige, and high levels of pay as its main recruitment strengths, the firm also wants to signal that its back office employees will have a more relaxed workplace environment in the future. Though the change in dress code is not radical enough to constitute a “draw” for prospective hires, it should help to reduce the deterrence of a highly rigid corporate culture.

Now, those of you who expect to see coders streaming through the doors of Goldman headquarters at 200 West wearing sandals and t-shirts will be disappointed. In most cases, the firm’s engineers are located at its dedicated tech & ops offices in Jersey City, Salt Lake City, and other locations. In fact, this separation of divisions has permitted Goldman to institute a year-round casual dress code for its back office employees, while other firms have taken the far more conservative approach of allowing business casual attire on select days and during the summer.

If Goldman expects that the opportunity to wear jeans to work will entice top programmers, they will likely be disappointed.

What remains to be seen is if this cultural shift will be successful in helping the firm’s recruitment. If Goldman expects that the opportunity to wear jeans to work will entice top programmers, they will likely be disappointed. Changing the corporate dress code is far from being a sufficient incentive to engineers who could otherwise lend their work to the sun-soaked tech campuses of Silicon Valley. However, the bank may also be attempting to signal a culture change in the technology and operations division. A friendlier, more relaxed environment coupled with the high level of prestige and compensation that comes with a Goldman Sachs career could serve as a compelling opportunity for new and experienced technology employees.

If the shift toward a casual dress code in the back office proves fruitful, Goldman may extend its efforts. Perhaps in the future we will see pictures of Goldman Sachs offices with comfortable couches and cafeterias catered by gourmet chefs. On the other hand, the firm could retain much of its demanding culture even with a more relaxed dress code. For an example of this hybrid approach, look no further than Amazon. While they do not mandate business formal attire, the expectations on employees are as rigid and demanding as those of any Wall Street bank. In any case, students of in-demand disciplines like computer science and computer engineering would do well to look into opportunities in financial services. It is no small matter for such a rigid firm to relax its employee requirements, and this likely indicates that companies like Goldman are having trouble acquiring the programmers and engineers that it needs to support the industry’s growing reliance on technology. It may not be the most traditional destination for technology professionals, but Wall Street, with its fat paychecks and prestigious titles, is calling for tech talent.

The views and statements expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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