In 2018, Lauren Bonner sued her then-employer, the $16 billion hedge fund Point72 Asset Management, for gender discrimination. Among her accusations: unfair pay practices (she said she was paid up to two-thirds less than her male counterparts) and a sexist work environment that involved daily offenses from the firm’s top executives. The case dragged on for almost three years, during which Bonner continued her job as head of talent analytics at the very company she was suing. While she is not legally allowed to speak in detail about the case, she describes that period as “excruciating.”
Ultimately, her lawsuit was settled in 2020. Bonner is a partner at the investment firm One Zero Capital; she is also building her own venture that focuses on growing undervalued companies. Here, she talks about fearing that her finance career might be over, the advice she gives to other women who are experiencing gender discrimination at work, and her life post-lawsuit. She lives in New York with her husband and dog. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I am not a morning person, and I never have been. I learned to accept that a couple of years ago after I read Daniel Pink’s book [When] about how to find your most productive hours. I usually wake up by 8 a.m., and it takes me a little while to get going. While I’m still in bed, I check my emails and read news headlines. Then I go make coffee.
One thing I do every morning is watch comedy for about 15 minutes. It’s a habit I picked up during my lawsuit. I’ll watch a late-night monologue from the night before, or 20 minutes of something older. Seth Meyers and Amber Ruffin are my go-tos. I’ve found that starting off the day laughing makes a considerable difference in my mood.
Then I’ll put on something [to wear] that’s a notch above pajamas and walk the dog. We think she’s a poodle-Schnauzer mix. While I’m throwing a stick for her, I look at Twitter, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg. By the time I get back home and sit down at my desk, it’s usually around 10 a.m. I’m still working from home for now, with the dog napping next to me.
On suing her former employer for gender discrimination:
I spent a lot of time thinking about my options, and ultimately, I felt 100 percent conviction that it was the right thing to do. But it was also terrifying and painful. Shortly after I filed my lawsuit, my mom ran into a very senior hedge fund executive who told her that I would never work in finance again. To hear that from someone with a lot of power — it was the ultimate manifestation of my fears. It stayed with me, and kept me up at night.
One thing that sustained me was thinking about other women [who were fighting similar battles]. And I heard from a ton of them, across the financial services industry. I still hear from a lot of women who are grappling with this conflict of fighting for themselves, and managing the completely unknown risk of the consequences of that fight. I tell them a couple of things. One is that they ultimately need to decide what’s best for them and for their families. A lot of women, especially in a post–Me Too world, feel that they need to do their part for the movement. But I think you also have to be strategic about picking that battle. And you have to make sure that you’re still doing right by yourself. Which is hard advice to give, because I also want more women to stand up for themselves and get what they deserve. It is a balance, ultimately. Part of why I felt the obligation to do what I did was that I came into the situation with so much privilege. Life after a lawsuit can be reliant on some of the old elitist standbys like your network, connections, pedigree, and resources. But not everybody is in a position to be able to pull that off. And you have to be realistic about that.
How she felt when the lawsuit was settled after almost three years:
I felt a sense of impenetrable resilience. I never expected to feel that good afterwards. I thought that I would have a lot more anxiety and self doubt. But after going through an experience like that, I felt like, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone’s going to say “no” to me? They don’t want to work with me, they don’t want to invest in the thing I think they should invest in? Okay! I felt like nothing would ever be as stressful as the lawsuit. And that gave me a real hunger to work and build and do new things, and invest in people.
On what her work is like now:
My job is to find spectacular talent at undervalued companies, and then invest in those companies and those people. Usually the companies are pretty small, and they need someone with capital to come in and believe in them. I tend to root for the underdog, so when I find great people in these situations, I’m excited to get involved and help them grow their business.
I usually find these companies through my network. Once you put it out there that you are looking to invest in companies that other people aren’t, they start knocking on your door pretty quickly. A lot of investors are looking for [the next] unicorns [fast-growing start-ups valued at over $1B], but I am looking for thoroughbreds and work horses — smaller companies that grow at a steadier pace with less risk. For example, I just acquired a small luxury brand, Margo Petitti, from an owner I’ve known for years and years, who I think is a creative genius. It’s mostly been a brick-and-mortar operation until now, and there’s a real opportunity for a direct-to-consumer commerce play. That, to me, is super exciting.
On rebuilding her career after her lawsuit:
To some extent, my fears were true; there are certainly doors that have closed to me. But I’ve also been surprised by the doors that have opened. For all the bad guys on Wall Street, there are guys who want to back smart women with courage. And for the most part, we are talking about men, because the asset-management world is primarily driven by male decision-makers. I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve gotten from people who want to invest together, or do deals together. So, while my fears were very real and I think justified, there’s also hope.
There was a period of time when I thought, “My God, how am I going to talk about the lawsuit?” And the reality is, I just don’t. When people ask, I just say, “Yeah, I was in a situation, I took a stand, and now it’s over. Here’s the thing that I’m excited about now, that I want to talk to you about.” And for the most part, people want to move on also. So I don’t feel like it hangs around my neck. And normalizing it helps clear the path for other people to do it and then get back to business.
On asking people for money to invest:
It’s never not awkward. It’s just a lot of connecting with people, and asking them to connect you with more people. And once you find people who have a similar view of investing, you build a following that’s interested in the opportunities that you find. To me, it really comes down to assessing talent. I spent many years getting good at that. Once you feel conviction about a team and a strategy, it becomes much easier to raise money to back it.
On managing her daily schedule:
My energy often takes a dive in the early afternoon, so I usually do a Pilates video for 20 to 45 minutes. Then I listen to Rachel Maddow and get pumped back up about whatever thing she’s angry about. And then I’m ready to go back to work.
If I can, I love to make dinner. Cooking is its own all-consuming mental puzzle for me, which I find really relaxing. I try not to follow recipes, and just use what’s in the house. I’m a bit of a night owl, so after dinner I tend to work for a couple more hours, until midnight or 1 a.m.
I also love hosting people for dinner. Usually not during the week, because I can’t pull that off, but I love having a long, rambling dinner party with lots of wine and shouting conversations.