Tale of misogyny at Goldman Sachs shows need for women bosses

Harriet Harman was right about Lehman Brothers (PA Wire)
Harriet Harman was right about Lehman Brothers (PA Wire)

THERE was one place I used to work where the (male) bosses liked to invite favoured staff to a black-tie boxing dinner. It was men only.

Another, where they liked to hold golf days. Again, ladies not invited. And another where they supported an army charity and the charity would hold a benefactors’ weekend, again no women allowed.

I can never forget the lunch at a club in the City where after dining we went upstairs for coffee. In the fullish room there were empty seats at the far end. The problem was there was a line across the floor beyond which women could not venture. The whole episode was embarrassing, not least because the senior partner, our host, referenced the fact it was regrettable we were having to stand.

You get the picture, and the blokeish drinks after work followed by some in the crowd going onto a lap dancing place. And the boys’ larkish comments directed against women colleagues that they would always excuse as “just having a bit of fun”.

This was the casual sexism and bullying that existed in the City. Anyone who supposes it has gone away, however, should read Bully Market – My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs by Jamie Fiore Higgins.

The shock of her work is that the events it describes are recent – she left only in 2016. She went before the “Me Too” movement and Black Lives Matter, but even so, her experiences seem fresh and yes, current.

What she experienced is what I’ve described and more: everyday sexist, abusive behaviour. The sadness is that the perpetrators do not even appear to know that what they’re doing is wrong. They’re jocks or to use the British word (it’s set in New York) “lads”, doing what lads do.

On one occasion she is grabbed by the throat and screamed at by a male fellow staffer. That reminded me of when I witnessed a male chief take a woman into an office when there was barely anyone else around, close the door and shout at her – several inches away from her face. He did not seem to realise or care that we could see what was going on via the internal window and it was possible, given his volume, to hear every phlegm accompanied word.

She does make a complaint, to HR in confidence – only to be accused soon afterwards by her team leader of speaking out of turn and “betraying” his trust.

Goldman will loathe her account. In truth, though, apart from the investment bankers’ swaggering belief in their own superiority - something that is drilled into them by virtue of being told repeatedly how hard it is to enter Goldman Sachs - it could be anywhere, on Wall Street, in the City and beyond.

In recent years, women and some enlightened men have campaigned vigorously for female representation on quoted boards. The “30% Club” has scored considerable success in persuading many corporations to make their directors 30% female. Invariably, this has meant non-executives.

It’s highly creditable and given the dire situation that existed previously, some achievement.

More women in boardrooms can set the tone, and, provided they speak up, who knows, even soften the testosterone-fuelled management strategy (Harriet Harman, rightly in my view, said the financial crisis of 2008 would not have occurred if women had been running the banks).

Much more, though, needs to be done, throughout and at the lower levels. Organisations will not change until their executives, as opposed to non-executives, are heavily female, and until they’ve got there by merit. That requires a sea change in attitude, so that women who want to go home to tend to their children and not go to the boozer of an evening are treated respectfully and not viewed as outcasts.

Higgins relates how, after returning from maternity leave, she was expected to put in the same, long arduous hours as before, almost as if nothing had altered. Again, all too familiar where too many workplaces are concerned, but equally, deplorable.

In the pursuit of diversity and equality we still have an awfully long way to go.