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Sexism in the city: “No matter how hard I work, I'll never be recognized” | Financial sector

When City manager Selena* checked into a Teams call with five senior male colleagues in the spring of 2021, she was impressed.

She had been warning bosses for weeks that the London investment firm was at risk of breaching European rules. She collected data and presented supporting evidence, but was repeatedly rejected. “Nobody wanted to listen,” she said.

So her jaw dropped that day when a male colleague raised the issue and immediately got the support of the same boss who had ignored her. “I had to stop the meeting,” she recalls. “I said, 'Why does a middle-aged white man have to deliver the same message that I've been delivering for the last few weeks?'”

When her comments were dismissed and described as “excessive”, it was the final straw. “The realization was: It doesn't matter how hard I work, how talented I am, how dedicated I am. They will never recognize me,” she said.

Selena, now in her 40s, later resigned, bringing her decades-long career to a temporary halt and leaving another City executive's behavior unchecked.

Her story was among those shared by more than 40 women in the financial services industry during the event a closed session of the House of Commons finance committee inquiry into sexism in the citywhose report and recommendations are due to be released this week.

Caused in part by allegations of sexual harassment against hedge fund boss Crispin Oddiethe inquiry is designed to determine whether significant progress has been made since then the last review of the committee in 2018. But shocking stories recently shared with MPs as part of the inquiry – from office bullying to serious allegations such as rape – suggest that the post-#MeToo focus on diversity and inclusion has failed to stamp out widespread misogyny.

But the “old club”, according to the interim report of the committee, has faded into the shadows. Sexual harassment may be less common in the office but more common at conferences and on business trips, while bad behavior has simply become “more behind the scenes and more pernicious”, the committee explained.

“We were very surprised at how little has changed in the last five years,” said the Conservative MP and chairman of the finance committee. Harriet Baldwin, before publishing the report.

There were hopes that the dial could move thanks to the post-pandemic boom in flexible working, mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap, and voluntary adoption Women in Finance Charter – subscribing companies must set goals to increase diversity in their leadership.

Unfortunately, little had changed by the time 26-year-old Victoria* joined a major global bank on a graduate program in 2019. She felt prepared for a career in a male-dominated industry by studying computer science and watching her parents navigate roles in the city. “But I don't know if I expected it to be so alienating,” Victoria said.

She regularly dodged comments from bosses about whether male colleagues were her boyfriends and was criticized for being “chatty”. But she moved on and was hired as one of three women on the 60-person quant team, in which banks use complex mathematical models to determine prices for financial products.

Despite her enthusiasm and requests to attend regular meetings to understand the team's goals, she repeatedly felt shut out. “I was told to just sit and be quiet. That's not what women want to be told.' Victoria's role was later removed and she left the sector.

Experiences like Victoria's have led MPs to question whether an overemphasis on strengthening female leadership – while an important part of the puzzle – has allowed firms to avoid tackling other harmful employment practices.

“A lot of people who want to make it better think that simply increasing the number of women will make it better,” said Labor MP and committee member Angela Eagle. “And they don't look at power relations and how wages and incentives work in certain parts of the sector … so I still think there's been a mis-analysis of what needs to be done.”

There are also concerns that smaller firms such as investment boutiques and hedge funds have been able to escape scrutiny because they are exempt from reporting on pay gaps and proposals to force the City's larger firms to report on diversity strategies and goals.

That puts those smaller firms at greater risk of harboring the worst offenders, Baldwin said. “It would be harder for you to recommend that your daughter go to work for some of these firms than for some of the big corporations,” said the MP, who has been a target herself. misconduct early in his career at JP Morgan.

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Julie, a 40-year veteran of the insurance industry, said banning non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and gag orders that protect the reputations of offending firms could be one simple solution.

She spent the first few decades of her career dealing with bouts of bullying, being suspended after maternity leave and feeling compelled to sign An NDA that prevented her from contesting one employer's dismissal. But Julie didn't expect further discrimination when she joined a new broker in 2018.

Her team was headed by a younger man, but any hope that he would take a more progressive approach was quickly dashed. Requests to work from home were met with intense scrutiny, and she was forced to make up time for hospital visits. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, this boss sent Julie's husband flyers for the helpline and the hospice. “He was just awful,” she said.

She then watched him get hired at another firm and put on its diversity committee. “There is still a long way to go. Men get away with a lot.”

Any tangible change may depend on whether Baldwin's Treasury committee is willing to give the recommendations in its report — aimed at government and city regulators — some teeth.

The committee's 2018 review, published under its former chairman Nicky Morgan, raised valid concerns about the pervasive 'alpha male' culture in the City and how the bonus pay structure and emphasis on presenteeism is holding back and disadvantaging women in the industry of finance. But more glaring in retrospect were his misses.

No reference to the scandal that unfolded months earlier around The President's Club is for men only a dinner party where hired housewives were allegedly groped and sexually harassed by invited businessmen and bankers. No impact from the #MeToo movement, which gained momentum in 2017 when women in all industries around the world began sharing personal stories of sexual harassment on social media.

Baldwin promised that her report would provide “actionable recommendations”: “It will be very much a summary of some progress, but very much a 'work in progress.'

But the committee's ultimate goal, Eagle added, is for this to be the last report of its kind. “I hope in five years we won't have to do this again,” she said.

*Not her real name


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