Harriet Harman: No more sexism in the City

If banks weren't getting enough stick at the moment, now they're being accused of sexism too...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Harriet Harman, the Government’s minister for women, told a trade union conference on Monday that the financial services industry is ‘top of the list for treating women employees unfairly’ – particularly in terms of pay and promotion. She’s now ordered the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the ‘male-dominated culture’ at the heart of the industry. Banks just can’t do anything right at the moment – either they’re paying their staff far too much, or far too little...

Salary was the most egregious difference between the sexes, according to Harman. Female bankers apparently earn on average 40% less than their male counterparts, which is almost twice as big as the overall pay gap in the UK. It’s partly because there are so few women in the upper echelons of the industry: just one in 20 managing directors is female, despite the fact that the industry actually employs more women than men. But even those who make it to MD level usually get paid less – and they’re few and far between anyway. ‘City boards are still mostly a no-go area for women,’ Harman insisted today.
So what, we hear you ask, does she intend to do about it? Well, presumably the Commission may have some ideas of its own, but for the time being the Government’s focus appears to be a new equality bill – which will, amongst other things, ban the salary ‘secrecy clauses’ beloved in the City. There’ll also be changes to the employment tribunal rules to make them more victim-friendly, and (probably) the controversial extension of flexible working rights, despite businesses moaning that it will add an extra cost burden that they really don’t need at the moment.

With Harman also railing against the practice of taking clients to lap-dancing clubs (which she claimed amounted to harassment of female employees), it’s a bad time to be admitting you’ve just organised an event for male execs to ogle scantily-clad young ladies in stockings and suspenders. Step forward 3i: the struggling FTSE-listed private equity group is apparently hosting an Agent Provocateur evening, where a select group of clients and execs will be able to buy some saucy smalls for their other half before Valentine’s Day.

3i, for its part, has protested that it’s just trying to help out a portfolio company – and that it’s also held women-only events in the past. Much though we admire this noble effort to boost consumption in the real economy, we can’t help feeling that this was a pretty impolitic idea in the first place. And now that Harman has slammed the industry so publicly, it's looking like an increasingly terrible one...

In today's bulletin:

HBOS and RBS chiefs say sorry for ignoring risks
JJB calls in the administrators after retail shoeing
Ed makes a Depressing Balls-up
Harriet Harman: No more sexism in the City
Editor's blog: Putting the world to rights in Portmerion

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