City Watchdog must do more to stamp down on sexual harassment in firms, MPs told
This year, a record number of sexual misconduct allegations have emerged from women working in financial services, as misogynistic attitudes have spread through various industries operating out of the City of London. In light of these allegations, The Treasury Committee launched an inquiry into sexism in the City, with one of its key objectives being the examination of ‘the barriers faced by women in financial services’.
Recently, the Committee heard oral evidence from Baroness Helena Morrisey, Chair of the Diversity Project, a cross-company initiative championing a diverse and inclusive UK investment industry. Upon giving evidence to the Committee, Morrissey warned that the financial industry operates as an ‘old boys’ network’, in which men and women have vastly different perceptions on how they view the workplace. This gap between how men and women view the workplace ultimately came down to diversity versus inclusion.
Further evidence indicated that women encounter what is commonly known as microaggressions, which undermine their sense of safety and respect within their workplaces; these microaggressions can manifest as interruptions during meetings, stolen ideas, and evidently, sexualisation. When left unchecked, these issues can escalate into more severe disturbances in the workplace, such as misogyny and sexual misconduct. Mark Freed, Chief Executive Officer of E2W Limited, called for companies to begin focusing on inclusion, rather than solely increasing their number of female staff, through the acknowledgement and eradication of these microaggressions.
The Committee heard 20 testimonies in support of their inquiry, and a common factor in each of these testimonies was a ‘fear factor’ in regard to speaking up about sexism in the industry. This fear factor exists for various reasons, such as concerns about not being believed, the potential for facing repercussions, abuses of power, and inadequate investigative processes that result in perpetrators of misconduct remaining with the firm. A widespread lack of trust in HR was also observed among the women who bravely came forward with testimonies.
As these issues emerged throughout the evidence session, the complicity of the Financial Conduct Authority was called into question, and the regulatory body’s consultation paper on ‘Diversity and Inclusion within the Financial Sector’ was labelled as ‘pathetic’ by Dame Angela Eagle. Morrissey and Eagle called for stricter and clearer guidelines on the specific behaviour that will no longer be tolerated, as well as independent investigations into allegations in order to ensure that the culture of fear is eradicated.
The Worker Protection Bill seeks to disrupt the current narrative of sexism in the city. The Bill, proposed by Wera Hobhouse, places a duty on the employer to proactively prevent sexual harassment from taking place, and it is hopeful that this will encourage City firms to tackle their toxic cultures that foster fear and misogynistic attitudes. The additional obligations placed on employers, such as the duty to carry out impartial investigations, will hopefully encourage women to begin speaking out, and partially alleviate the fear factor that currently exists within City firms.
If you have been the victim of workplace bullying or harassment, we encourage you to reach out to Bolt Burdon Kemp for a free and confidential conversation with one of our experts.