The ups and downs of life in the higher echelons of the financial world have become obvious to even the most casual observer over recent months.

A time of boom has brought large salaries and huge bonuses to the handful of people who make the grade. Meanwhile, though, a spate of scandals has demonstrated how fleeting such success can be - and how the stress of maintaining performance can sometimes tempt people to cut corners and take unwise risks.

What this translates into is long hours, with traders and dealers starting early in the morning to catch overseas markets and staying on late in the evening to catch up on administration, as well as to indulge in socialising and other more structured forms of team-building.

It is no wonder that - with the exception of the likes of Nicola Horlick and Carol Galley, who have carved out reputations in the comparatively calm field of fund management - women generally do not reach the top.

On New York's Wall Street the work ethic is said to be even stronger. Yet a new book has identified a group of women who have made it in what the author, Sue Herera, calls "the world's toughest business".

Among the 14 players interviewed for Women of the Street (Wiley, pounds 19.99) are Muriel Siebert, the first woman to own a seat on the New York stock exchange; Abby Joseph Cohen, a former Federal Reserve Board economist, now "in a position of great power and influence" at the investment bank Goldman Sachs; Elaine Garzarelli, the so-called market guru who predicted the 1987 crash; and Bridget Macaskill, a British marketing specialist who now heads the Oppenheimer Funds.

Ms Herera, host of the US television programme Business Tonight, claims towards the end of the book she describes as "a labour of love" that Wall Street is a barometer for the general progress of women in the workplace. "If it appears from these women's stories that some of the major issues have not yet been resolved, or that there is a measure of ambivalence toward the price of success and the impact of discrimination, it is probably because these women are the ones that are marking new rules and setting new benchmarks," she writes.

Nevertheless, she points out that - for all of the hostility, real and perceived - facing women working in finance, they and many other women have succeeded there because "the entrepreneurial side of the business and its emphasis on bottom-line performance perhaps allows women more opportunity to pursue their dreams without restriction, compared to the more rigid hierarchies (or serendipitous office politics) that prevail in traditional corporate cultures"n