Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=114605
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 7:33:50 PM CST
A trading pit is called a pit for a reason.
Before trading commences, these miniature amphitheatres seem dignified and orderly. People wear color-coded jackets to indicate their positions. As the start time nears, the space fills with traders, brokers and clerks who smile and chat amicably with one another.
Then, suddenly, the bell rings and the noise decibel skyrockets. Traders shove each other out of the way as they jockey for position. Unable to be heard through the din, they raise their hands high in the air, using complex sign language to communicate.
This cacophony of aggressive voices has always been dominated by men at the Chicago institutions that host these pits: the Chicago Board Options Exchange and CME Group Inc., home of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade. Visitors to the exchanges can readily observe that there are almost no women traders in the pits.
However, industry insiders suspect that the advent of e-trading in the early 1990s has drawn more women to futures and options exchanges. E-trading allows women to compete on a level playing field and avoid the rowdy pits. At CBOT, approximately 80 percent of orders are now traded electronically. At CBOE, about 95 percent of orders are traded electronically.
Ana Gansmann, who worked for four years as a clerk at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (which merged with the CBOT in 2007), said that the male traders “weren’t very considerate towards women traders.” In 2006, Gansmann began trading options online, which she finds much less stressful.
“The guys on the floor were very old school type of guys,” she said in an interview. “[Trading online] is very quiet compared to the floor, which I like a lot. I kind of miss the human interaction though.”
Representatives of Chicago-based OptionsHouse, an online brokerage firm, report that they have many female customers. Exchange spokespersons likewise suspected that a growing number of women are trading online, although neither institution tracks the number of female traders.
Despite the appeal of e-trading, some women do trade in the pits. Amy Butler, a broker in the S&P 100 Options Pit at the CBOE, has been trading since 1991. Since women’s smaller size can make it more difficult for them to muscle through the pit, she has tried to elevate her position—literally.
“I’m short, so for a while, when I was in a particularly crowded spot, I stood on a box,” she said. “You prove yourself just like any guy, you gain the respect and they know what you can do. [Female pit traders need to] have a thick skin, let it roll off and be diligent and smart.”
While some believe that the face-to-face contact of the pits allows traders to sense each other's motives and make sounder decisions, others argue that e-trading is more efficient and less susceptible to manipulation.
Terry Savage, a nationally syndicated Chicago Sun-Times finance columnist, was the first woman trader at CBOE after it was founded in 1973, when e-trading was not available. Savage said women should play to their strengths—whatever those strengths may be.
“There’s no need to work on the floor,” she said. “Never work where you’re at a disadvantage, always work where you have an advantage. But if you want to go on the floor, you have to be prepared to state your case on the floor.”
Savage noted one particular advantage to women who opt for the human interaction afforded by the pits.
“Being a female on the floor…you were distinctive,” she said. “People remembered you. People heard your voice. It may not have been as loud but it sure was different.”