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'Sexism in the City' Still a Major Problem

Consultancy 14th June 2024

Sexism in the City - Female Employee‘Sexism in the City’ is still a major problem, with no sign of real changes since an original investigation eight years’ ago.

According to a new Treasury Committee report into finance sector employers: “many firms still treat diversity and inclusion as a ‘tick-box’ exercise rather than a core business priority, despite clear evidence that diverse firms achieve better results.”

Cases of sexual harassment and bullying are commonplace. The gender pay gap is still one of the largest of any sector at 22.7%. There’s been little progress — despite pressure from and the Financial Conduct Authority — because it’s a problem of ingrained culture.

Time to deliver on diversity and inclusion targets

The Treasury Committee report recommends putting more pressure on boards to deliver on diversity and inclusion targets, as well as making those firms with the largest gender pay gaps demonstrate they have plans in place to address the issue.

This changes the mechanics of measurement and makes it easier for City firms to look like they’re making progress — but would it get to the root of problems? The FCA has, for a number of years, made its position clear on the need for tougher action. It has threatened to impose fines and even bans on managers found to be in breach of expected standards of behaviour. Similarly, managers who don’t deal with problems being raised by their line reports are liable to face punishment. Rather than encouraging openness and more staff to come forward, this immediately led to a sharp fall in the number of whistle-blower reports.

No one set of recommendations or new demands from regulatory authorities is able to change attitudes and behaviours that have become established and been part of power relationships over generations. Rather than a new spirit of openness, the threats can lead to a rush to self-protection and more insidious forms of secrecy.

Organisations of all kinds involve (unavoidable) hierarchies and an imbalance in power. What matters is how people interact, the rules of engagement, what’s expected from each other. Do people feel able to speak up when they feel uncomfortable about behaviours and attitudes around them, and do so without the risk of repercussions for their prospects?

Extensive Experience in the Finance Sector

On a practical level, CMP can help HR in the finance sector create a positive workplace culture built on a foundation of Psychological Safety. There are key steps that can be taken depending on where organisational needs are and what’s already in place:

  • By creating a behavioural framework which all employees understand and know what is expected of them;
  • Ensuring robust and fair HR investigations are in place when allegations of misconduct are reported;
  • Having a triage process to signpost to informal mediation or other restorative interventions when appropriate;
  • Using highly skilled mediators, coaches and trainers when needed to restore relationships, develop emotional intelligence, address unconscious bias and early conflict situations;
  • Building a psychologically safe workplace – assisting to break down any possibility of ‘imposter syndrome’ amongst under-represented groups when they get promoted and more generally enabling teams to thrive.

In conclusion, fostering a ‘Clear Air’ culture is essential, where individuals at all levels feel empowered to speak up and engage in positive, constructive challenges. This can be achieved by equipping everyone with the skills necessary for better conversations, anchored in Conversational Integrity.

By developing key capacities such as situational awareness, curiosity, reflective listening, empathy, and self-awareness, we can create an environment where open, honest communication thrives, leading to more effective collaboration and a stronger organisational culture.

Photo by Emmy E