Heidi Moore just joined Guardian US as its Finance and Economics Editor. She was previously New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace. She’s also been a finance journalist for over 13 years at a variety of outlets, including the Wall Street Journal. She speaks to BuzzFeed Shift about her new job, the wage gap, and more.
The economic recovery has been stronger for men than women. Is that going to change? How can we change it?
We forget that this is a problem that is hundreds if not thousands of years old — the issue of the economic self-determination of women is ancient, and we’re not going to solve it in one election cycle. Hopefully we can use this momentum to do what is proven from many studies to be beneficial to business. Businesses run better when women are treated equally, when women are on the board of directors, when women are involved in startups. The numbers and proof are there. The question is, do we have the impetus now where this is going to be something that changes or improves?
A lot of conversation about women in this election has been about reproductive rights as though that’s the only thing that applies to women. Obviously it’s important but there’s the whole issue of economic self-determination that’s both related to that and bigger than that. You can’t really picture an America where the economy recovers while 50 percent of its citizens aren’t treated equally.
Aside from “binders full of women,” what should managers be doing to recruit and retain talented women?
This is a subject that I have covered so consistently. One thing that generally doesn’t help is that very often you quietly hear complaints about committees designed to promote women that are really just for show. It doesn’t help if you have a Potemkin village of support for women.
If you cover Wall Street you are exposed to women on Wall Street, and what you hear from them is they would like more mentorship, more guidance on how to work through different corporate cultures. To have women do well in these firms you do have to have shifts in corporate culture to some extent. Women tend to do well if they have mentors; it doesn’t have to be a woman, but they need somebody who backs them. They require flexible work arrangements to some extent — obviously finance almost universally has ridiculous hours, but some firms are more family-friendly. And that happens on a manager level if your boss understands what it’s like to have a family.
Another complaint I’ve heard from women is that if they act as assertive and aggressive as their male colleagues, they get penalized.
That is again a bigger cultural issue that goes back thousands of years. It goes into social norms. I’ve talked to women on trading floors who have done really well with the strategy that if a guy yells at you, you yell back. But not everywhere in this world is a trading floor. There’s no one way to be — I hope we’re not searching for that as women. There’s no one personality to have to crack through the corporate ladder. You have to be yourself and seek a place where there’s that mutual respect.
How is your new gig at Guardian US going to be different from your work at Marketplace?
First of all, Marketplace is terrific. But I got to know the Guardian when I was a contributor to them, and the traffic and the comments and the reader engagement were phenomenal. A story would have 100 comments after 15 minutes. It showed me that they have tremendous digital power at Guardian US, which was really important to me. I believe digital is the future of journalism, and I’m always shocked when people don’t believe that.
Getting 100 comments in 15 minutes sounds exciting, but also stressful — how do you deal with the negative ones?
The Wall Street Journal was my first exposure to online commenters, and they used to drive me bonkers, but there were also a lot of really smart people. You learn over time to take what they’re really saying — are they really pointing out places where you could cover more? I just don’t see journalism existing without comments — how can you have journalism without some sort of feedback from your reader that you’re supposed to serve? One thing that bothers me about journalism is when it gets very ivory tower, like “what are we going to hand down to the populace today?” I don’t believe in that. Of course there are always a few negative comments, but you learn to deal with them — that’s how you get better, or at least that’s how you open your mind.
What are you going to do to make business and finance news more approachable to regular people?
A lot of it is just approaching business coverage in plain language. Often even the best business journalists can get seduced by repeating technical terms, but that’s not really useful to the rest of the world unless you add a definition to it. I also did a few explainers at New York Magazine, and they always ended up being really popular — even people who consider themselves sophisticated about finance like to have a little bit of an explanation.
How did you get into writing about finance?
I fell into it, the way a lot of people in my generation (I’m in my thirties) fell into it. When I started, it wasn’t sexy at all. It’s been tremendously weird to see it become very mainstream and glamorous.
In 1999 I’d just graduated from college, and everyone in New York was a venture capitalist if you had $25 and a dog. Silicon Alley started back then (the New York version of the tech scene). The idea of money and investment was in the air but it was seen as very niche. I started at Institutional Investor, writing about bankers for bankers, and I started writing about tech IPOs, which in 1999 was a blessing from God, because there were so many tech IPOs. I liked that finance was analytical and interesting, but also really personality-based. And also finance is at the center of so much of how America works, whether it’s your checking account, a startup looking for money, or the Fed buying up mortgage bonds. Even though people read about politics and study politics as a matter of responsibility, they don’t really feel that same necessity for finance.
There’s been a lot of coverage of female journalists clustering in (or being shunted into) so-called “pink” topics — what’s it like to be a female journalist in a very non-pink field?
I have tremendous respect and admiration for female journalists who tackle any topic, and social issues are crucial. What I’ve found is if you show an interest in the topic, if you’re thorough, if you do your work and show that you’re trustworthy, gender isn’t as much of an issue. If you work in a finance firm it’s different — it’s very hard to advance as a woman in financial services. But as a female journalist it’s actually an advantage. As a young person I had access that I never would’ve had if I was actually in finance — I’d probably be running off copies or something. Journalism was a way to learn about interesting topics without actually having to fight a gender war.
What’s the biggest financial story right now that people aren’t following but should be?
The sovereign debt crisis is an example — that’s a really big story where you can actually be almost blinded by how big and how complicated it is. In finance we’re often dealing with chaos, and the numbers can actually mislead you. They can lead you to believe you understand something when you really don’t.
Would more women make Wall Street more ethical and less error-prone?
Women would certainly welcome the challenge, they’d like to try. But we don’t have the empirical basis to say that — it’s not going to work if we say one gender is better than the other. It’s balance that we’re looking for. I think part of the reason that firms, companies, and startups do better when women are more represented is that very often they represent a dissident voice. Without that, companies can fall into lockstep. You need people who can bring different points of view. That also applies to minorities. Companies can have a lot of hubris — they’re so convinced through self-reinforcement of their own rightness that they never stop to think, what haven’t we thought of?