A former environment of “pervading sexism” in the City created an “alpha male” environment in which harassment was common, according to Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia.
Speaking today to MPs on the Treasury Select Committee, Gadhia said she had come across multiple incidents during her career in the Square Mile when sexism had reared its head.
Referring to her time at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) from 2001 until 2007, where she led the retail mortgage business, Gadhia said: “Undoubtedly there was a sort of pervading sexism.”
She said: “I remember a very senior woman being very upset one day, telling me that she was expected to sleep with her boss.”
While noting changes since then have created a much more positive environment, Gadhia said sexist culture created “issues for women progressing through financial services”.
The City's culture is “overwhelmingly” the main reason why women are put off by finance jobs, said Gadhia, who was giving evidence in an inquiry into the status of women in finance.
Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal and General Investment Management and a founder of the 30% Club, which advocates for more women on boards, said the attitude towards sexism in the Square Mile has changed dramatically since she started her career.
While “overt discrimination and harassment” was common 30 years ago, the City has since gradually moved first towards a “much greater awareness of the need to at least be seen to be fair” and then a “wave of enthusiasm for diversity efforts”.
Morrissey added: “I feel we’re on the verge of an even more exciting fourth decade, where there’s a realisation that we need new thinking, and that demands fresh and multiple perspectives. Of course that goes beyond gender but it means women don’t need to fit in with the existing rules but can help influence the new ones.”
However, Morrissey acknowledged that she still sometimes sees “subtle, but undermining” sexism.
Sublte, unconscious bias is holding back equal pay in the City, Gadhia said, adding that women were less likely to demand increases to their pay particularly around bonuses.
Gadhia said: “In particular in financial services one of the things that women really dislike…[is] the bonus culture they feel means people have to go and argue about how well they’ve performed.”
A “win/lose” environment in finance can create a “very male culture”, she said.
During her time at insurer Norwich Union, now Aviva, Gadhia said “there was a definite alpha-maleness about that I’ve never forgotten.”
Nicky Morgan, chair of the committee of MPs and a former minister for women and equality, said: “The Treasury Committee heard today that one way of tackling the pay gap in finance is to ensure that we have more women in senior roles.
“We will continue our Women in Finance inquiry to identify how this can be achieved.”
In response to the testimony heard at the inquiry, a spokesperson for RBS said: “These allegations are shocking and are clearly unacceptable no matter how historical they may be. We actively encourage anyone who has experienced inappropriate behaviour to come forward so we can investigate. We also have a whistle blower facility where members of staff can talk in confidence."
Jan Gooding, Aviva’s director of inclusion, said: “We have come a long way and learned a lot in the last 20-plus years and Aviva has zero tolerance for any sexist behaviour. We are building a more inclusive culture at Aviva and respect for one another is critical to this.”