Many women don't even consider economics, Helen Pozniak discovers
We all know life in the City is no longer about drinking bubbly until you're sick, whooping with machismo glee as the dollars roll in, working around-the-clock and grabbing a quick snooze in the loo. So, if investment banks are a healthier and fairer place to work, why are women applicants still in such woefully short supply?

According to an unofficial survey last month, women economists and brokers fear having children will wreck their careers, and that glass ceilings block chances of promotion and pay rises. In short, the City is still a man's world.

Whatever the truth of this - and some City women say sexism is no better or worse here than elsewhere - it's an image that's turning away women graduates in droves. "Quite honestly, if you perform well, banks don't care if you're a man, woman or a hamster," says one woman economist with a major US investment bank. "And yet 99 percent of CVs I receive are from men."

"I know there are good women out there," says another London-based analyst at a US bank. "But investment banking doesn't even occur to them as a career. Something needs to be done at university level." Barclays Capital is one investment bank trawling universities for potential women recruits. "We're looking for solid numerical skills, a degree in, say, engineering, science or business," says Victoria Salwey, manager in campus recruiting.

For Jane Foley, 32, investment banking was certainly not number one on her career wish-list. Yet today, she's a foreign exchange strategist at Barclays Capital. "I consider myself privileged to come in every day, look at world news, at the economic and political situation within countries, and then analyse it."

Don't be put off by the city's stereotypical image, Jane urges. Banks have cleaned up their act after the excesses of the Eighties. She is well aware that the myth is largely to blame for the self-selection that weeds out women before they even start higher education. From an all-girls school, she was amazed that female students made up just 10 percent of her university economics class. "It never occurred to me I shouldn't do this subject, but many (female) students don't even consider it."

Adrenalin-pumping pressure is one of the turn-offs cited by would-be female bankers, but Jane Foley says: "It's not a life and death pressure, it's about money, so keep it in context."

And, frankly, a buzz of excitement is no bad thing in a working world short on thrills, says 30-year-old Juliet, a currency strategist at a London investment bank. With degrees in history and Italian and then economics, she entered investment banking in a roundabout way, but is very glad she did.

One way to dip your toe into banking's waters is via a tailor-made course - University of London careers service offer graduates the chance to spend six days playing business games, giving presentations with compulsory evening socialising. "They get a sense of how you have to work and play hard," says Anne Marie Martin, careers director. "They either love it or hate it,"

One woman analyst explains how her day usually begins at 6.45am in the office, with a check of the papers - analysts have to keep up with market- mov- ing news - a review of the markets and morning calls. She speaks to clients - mostly male fund managers - writes forecasts and analyses for websites, internal and external publications. "Women tend to be good at this - juggling a lot of factors to emerge with a clear idea of, say, how the market will react in the medium term," she says.

It can be an advantage to be the odd woman in a team of male economists. "When something happens, thousands of people will pounce to predict how the market will move. If you're coming at it from a different point of view, a different background, you'll spot the opportunities other people miss."

Despite the fiendishly early starts, hours can be flexible. Many economists set their own agenda and it's a close as you get to being self-employed, she says.

Most women gravitate towards the sales sides of investment banking, while trading and research remain traditionally male dominated.

Salaries start at an average pounds 22,000, but pay is mostly performance-related and the biggest perk of all is that six-figure bonus that remains a legendary truth of investment banking.