- Misogyny and discrimination against women embedded in workplace culture
- Males who witness toxic behaviour towards female colleagues rarely challenge it
- Decent men are not the problem – they should be part of the solution
Can taking maternity leave really, in 2024, be more damaging to a woman’s career than accusations of sexual misconduct would be for a man’s?
That was the view expressed by one female financier in a report by the Treasury Committee on Sexism in the City.
It might seem an outlandish assertion, given the high profile careers of ‘City Superwomen’ such as Nicola Horlick and Helena Morrissey, who have had stellar careers and large broods of children.
But, like the women giving evidence to MPs on the committee, I believe misogyny, discrimination and unconscious bias against women are deeply embedded in workplace culture in financial services and elsewhere.
City superwomen do exist but they are very much the exception and some of them admit it is a facade.
Making a statement: Decent men are not the problem – they should be part of the solution
Morrissey, a mother of nine, has said she regrets colluding in the myth that women can have it all, calling it a ‘pernicious illusion’. Even with a supportive house-husband, a nanny and plenty of money, none of which are available to most women, she says she was angst-ridden and exhausted.
While City women make Sisyphean efforts to keep their job and family on the road, some sleazy men cavort and harass their way merrily round the office.
For years, they have got away with it. Recent well-publicised scandals may have made them more circumspect, but rather than ending the misconduct, the committee thinks perpetrators have become more underhand. Bernard Looney, the former boss of BP, was stripped of £32m of rewards for ‘serious misconduct’ when he misled his board over personal relationships with colleagues.
Contrast that with hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, who has faced number of allegations about his behaviour towards women over more than a decade. Odey is reported to have reaped almost £29million before he was ejected from his hedge fund.
His ex-wife, Nichola Pease, who initially stood by him, was previously considered one of the ‘City superwomen’ but the shine has faded on her once-glittering career. She resigned from her job as chairman of fund manager Jupiter for ‘personal reasons’ in the summer.
Several women giving evidence to the Treasury Committee testified that the culture at their workplace is one where men accused of sexual wrongdoing are protected and women are hung out to dry.
Sexism in the City is a very broad term, running the gamut from criminal assault to unequal pay and promotion. On pay, the committee found women are still coming off second best. This, it suggested, is because rewards in financial services are subject to a high degree of discretion and negotiation, coupled with a lack of transparency. In other words, it is hard for women even to find out if they are underpaid, let alone protest.
It doesn’t seem like coincidence that the investigation into Odey was led by a female journalist on the Financial Times, which has a female editor. This only works, however, if powerful women use their platform – and most do not. Amanda Blanc, boss of insurance giant Aviva is an honourable exception.
But the fight against sexism should not be down to women alone. Men have for years been urged to support their partners by taking on more responsibility at home.
The Treasury report found some male staff who witnessed toxic behaviour towards their female colleagues were privately supportive, but rarely challenged it at the time. Decent men are not the problem. They should be part of the solution.
So, as I am probably no longer supposed to say: Man Up.