The sexism scandal hasn't hit the City yet: That doesn't mean it's immune

Emma Haslett
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City institutions must weed out the worst transgressors. (Source: Getty)

It has been hailed as a revolution and bemoaned as a witch hunt.

But what the scandal currently snaking through the corridors of Westminster is rapidly teaching us is that very few women exist who do not have a grizzly tale of workplace discrimination, whether it is from colleagues they should have been able to trust, or those they have come into contact with along the way.

The fact the Square Mile has so far avoided the worst of the public mud slinging is encouraging. This suggests the well meaning diversity programmes and HR training the City has poured millions into were more than just box ticking exercises: as hoped, they may have brought about a wholesale change in attitudes.

But the speed with which the scandal has spread, from the distant hills of Hollywood to the corridors of power in London, suggests its pressure cooker-like nature. Institutions should beware: seemingly inconsequential actions which were once regarded as merely risque - the man who made his female colleagues squirm by winking at them across the boardroom table; the boss who, at a drinks party, confessed to his subordinates that he found women’s arms “arousing” - are increasingly being called into question.

Helped by social media and emboldened by their peers in entertainment and politics, women finally feel able to speak out about their experiences, and for their part, employers are more obliged than ever before to take those claims seriously.

And the widely-circulated spreadsheet which painstakingly documented MPs’ sexual transgressions and peccadilloes (as well as the odd consensual relationship) has demonstrated the people who abuse their positions of power are hiding in plain sight: everyone knows who they are.

To avoid a similar scandal in the Square Mile, the onus is on companies to do some detective work: weed out the worst of those individuals and ensure they cannot abuse their power again.

The times, they are a-changin, and the shift the scandal will bring about - more open conversations, less tolerated bad behaviour - is about to create a new normal. Despite those well-meaning HR programmes, it is very unlikely the City is immune.

Read more: DEBATE: Does the City need to confront its own sexual harassment problem?

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