This article first appeared in The Telegraph, 26th June, 2018.
I started in the city in 1999, as a fresh-faced intern at Lehman brothers. From there, I moved on to the trading floor of the now-defunct investment bank Bear Stearns as a graduate in the early Noughties.
The ‘Y’ chromosome outnumbered the double ‘X’, by a ratio of 10 to one. If the story about the all-male Presidents Club dinner had broken back then, I would have been shocked that it had made it into the newspapers - but not shocked by what had happened to the young women working there.
That was just the culture. Expenses forms had spaces for ‘Alternative Entertainment’ and I believe certain gentlemen’s clubs even gave out receipts marking women ordered off the menu as food items. This wasn’t an environment I thought I could progress my career in. So, I was extremely grateful when I was made redundant and found my way to investment management.
This is a hidden part of the City; one many people don’t know about, but should. We are the guys (and a few gals) who manage your pensions and investments.
But the gender split was not so different to the banks. Boardrooms were still full of a certain demographic, with some tokenism. But the Alpha chest beating behaviour was not overt – more of a beta chest tap.
Since the behaviour of some of the men at the Presidents Club was exposed, I have been asked several questions as an advocate for greater diversity in the City: were you shocked? The answer is no. We have long witnessed and experience this deplorable behaviour that, to a degree, it feels normal. We have had to laugh along when inappropriate jokes are made, because we don’t want to be pushed out of the ‘club’. I was lucky – I have always been able to stave off any unwanted male attention with a laugh, and I was the client so had protection around me. But I know many women aren’t so fortunate – particularly if they are dealing with third parties (Section 40 of the Equality Act, which was repealed in 2013, made an employer liable for sexual harassment experienced by employee at the hands of a third party - something a petition is now asking be reinstated).
Only this week, on LinkedIn, a woman commented that a male colleague used to send her unsolicited dick pics - which was always difficult to explain to her husband when they arrived late at night. Many come to me for advice, because they don’t feel their company will listen. After all – isn’t it a junior sales woman’s role to look pretty and smile?
But we women rarely talk to each other about our experiences - especially at a management level - because there are sadly still so few of us. Where are all the female ‘Presidents’? Why don’t they have their own club? The truth is that networking is still a male sport; with deals made on the golf course, over a pint or in those all-male clubs (both respectable and unrespectable). It was vastly different, in my experience, to banking; more softly spoken and well behaved - on the surface.
Women who work often don’t have this luxury. They are either rushing home to their second unpaid job, as a mother. Or they just aren’t senior enough to be allowed out of the office. If you are one of the few senior women to make it to the top, you are still not included.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, this week said we need to fundamentally look at how we can we help women to network. And it doesn’t have to be over a glass of tepid white wine with a few soggy canapes hosted by some corporate who has a hidden agenda. The real goal of networking is simply connecting with people. It can be done with an injection of fun – and not the way the Presidents Club defines it. It saddens me that it has taken 30 years for the goings on at the Presidents Club to get some air. I am pretty sure the behaviour will have been the same over the last three decades - but was buried, because no one wanted to listen.
It is times like this that leadership is most needed and most tested. So, I urge CEOs in the City – and the rest of the C-suite and boards of directors –to actually show, not just say, that they are committed to supporting women. That they are working to create a more balanced, respectful industry. The world is now watching.
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