Women in the City: Death by 1,000 cuts

The Presidents Club might have closed down. But women in the City still have to contend with a culture of harassment, discrimination and micro-aggression.

by Dominie Moss
Last Updated: 13 Feb 2018

Tick tock, tick tock. That’s the clock ticking towards May’s deadline for gender pay gap reporting, and in the City, it’s now getting deafening. None of the major investment banks have yet reported their gender pay gaps, and these titans of the economy are looking like chickens who won’t come out of their coops.

Gender pay gap figures are expected to be particularly bad for City and financial services firms, where increasing numbers of women are making it into junior positions, but still only a very few make it into executive roles. The betting is that none of the banks will show leadership by reporting their numbers early; instead they are all going to publish them en masse around deadline day, thereby hoping to escape being singled out.

The embarrassment for the City banks will be particularly acute because of the recent revelations about the Presidents Club, which has shone a bright light on the treatment of women in the City. It seems astonishing that sort of unacceptable behaviour in a corporate environment hadn’t gone the way of the dodo years ago.

But while the Financial Times’ expose of lewd behaviour at the Presidents Club has been brilliant and arresting, the sort of sexism and abuse of power going on around the tables of the Dorchester Hotel that night has been widely condemned for some time. Also, while 20 years ago this sort of behaviour was not uncommon in workplaces across the Square Mile, it has now, thank goodness, largely been stamped out in office environments.

What is harder to change, and also more difficult for even the best leadership teams in financial services to detect, is the 'death by 1,000 cuts' culture. This is the culture which, by many small and seemingly insignificant actions, holds back women from reaching their potential. Many women working in the City will recognise what I mean – it’s not being selected for the team on the biggest deals, being left out of the best networking opportunities, and finding that the chances for leadership have all been taken.

Recently a female MD at a boutique investment bank asked me: 'How can a woman be the top performer in her team if she is never played the ball?', and this is a problem at many financial services firms. It reminded me of what Mary Beard says in her recent book Women and Power: 'You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.'

So for firms to achieve a more balanced workforce, it’s not about 'fixing the women', it’s actually about fixing the workplace. You have to create a structure and culture that supports women throughout their careers, and at the different levels of a firm. This means, for example, supporting flexible working with the right technology, and ushering out presenteeism. It means altering manager mindsets so women are given the opportunity to work on the best deals and cover the best clients, and not assuming that they won’t want to travel to see clients.

It’s in driving this culture change that the genius of the government’s gender pay gap reporting regime can be seen. It will act like a ratchet, steadily increasing the pressure on non-diverse firms as the years go on and the reporting continues. Imagine how a bank will look if, in five years time, its gender pay gap has remained stuck, still with only a small number of women in executive roles. It will look like it isn’t taking the issue seriously and its culture isn’t appropriate for women.

Alongside potential recruitment problems – particularly among millennials committed to diversity - non-diverse firms are risking their bottom line. Studies by the likes of McKinsey and EY have shown that bringing more women into management boosts profitability. And firms that score well in terms of gender pay gap are likely to make public-relations and marketing hay at the expense of those that don’t.

Killing the sad old Presidents Club was long overdue. Building a new culture inside City firms, one which allows women’s careers to progress as far as men’s, will be a much longer and more difficult job. Let’s get on with it.

Dominie Moss founded The Return Hub, which connects women returning from career breaks with jobs in financial services.



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