Equity is about women on Wall Street. It’s a Wall Street drama, but it’s not about corruption, crime, or catastrophe. It’s about women who thrive on competition and ambition, deals and strategy, but who must carefully calibrate every aspect of their lives, professional and private, to stay equal in the game.
Sarah Auerbach Ifrah attended a recent pre-screening of this financial thriller by Sony Pictures Classic, opening on July 29th. She gives her opinion below:
Equity, the brainchild of Amy Fox and Meera Menon, cogently depicts the intertwined stories of three career women grappling with a formidable glass ceiling. Naomi Bishop, central protagonist and investment banker, opens the film with a powerful statement that for women, money and ambition should not be stigmatized.
Despite her aim to advance herself on Wall Street, however, her boss constantly reminds her that her intensity ‘rubs clients the wrong way’. Furthermore, the media refuses to absolve Naomi of a past error in taking a former company public. Yet the major obstacle that Naomi deals with is her fear of aging in a banking career that favors women in their twenties.
Naomi personifies the ideals of the 1980s career woman: she is strong, independent, and uses her intellect to gain respect, especially in attempting to equalize herself with her male counterparts. She exemplifies traits that in the past, were classified as mostly male: a talent for numbers, and collected composure in a professional setting, even in trying situations.
These traits are somewhat distasteful, threatening, and unsettling to her peers and clients. This is a conflict many women today who graduate with MBAs and work experience deal with internally: do they gain admiration with their intellect and professionality, and leave the femininity out of the equation?
Naomi’s foil is Vice President of the firm and her younger subordinate, Erin, who is equally ambitious, but uses different means to advance her career. Erin aspires to be promoted, however, her pregnancy presents an obstacle. Just as age is discriminated against in the workplace, so is motherhood. Erin, unlike Naomi, exudes femininity in her gait and gestures. She is more personable than Naomi and she understands the way people think, what they want, and how to communicate with them.
When Naomi and Erin attempt to take social network company Cachet public, Erin is the one with whom the founder prefers to communicate; Yet Cachet’s founder has a chilling message for women in business. He tells Erin that ‘she is merely the VP; when he wants to talk business, he will talk to Naomi.’ Here we see the paradox: if we as women give up our ability to be feminine, personable communicators and become more like Naomi, we are seen as ‘too male’ yet if we become like Erin, we may not be taken seriously.
Equity shows us that perhaps a balance of both is necessary to navigate the business world.
Lastly, we see prosecutor Samantha, who uncovering a spiderweb of corruption, brings ethics to the world of Equity. Samantha is sharp and strong yet feminine, collected yet ambitious, and through all of this a mother. Is Samantha the character who combines and balances the extremes that Naomi and Erin portray, and is she the answer to our struggle in the workplace as women: that ultimate balance we all seek to be everything and do everything?
Equity does not give us an answer but it powerfully poses that question.
Sarah Auerbach Ifrah is an MBA candidate at the Chicago Booth School of Business, with a focus on Finance and Economics.