Has #MeToo Reached Banking Now?

The #MeToo movement has put top executives on notice. Has the movement led to changes in the notoriously male-dominated banking industry? finews.asia investigates.

The movement known under the hashtag #MeToo has rattled almost every business industry, but it doesn’t look like much has changed at banks. «I haven’t heard that #MeToo is an issue with banks,» Denise Chervet, who is head of a Swiss bank employee group, told finews.asia.

Bank staff are reluctant to report cases of harassment or mobbing for fear of losing their job on endangering their career, Chervet said. In many countries law doesn’t offer much protection for those who report bad workplace behavior. And unlike in the U.K. or U.S., there is little legal recourse for employees looking to recoup damages.

Before #MeToo

According to Chervet «employers aren’t at all worried» about cases popping up. While major banks have notification hotlines for employees subjected to harassment, but these existed even before the #MeToo movement surfaced. The larger problem are smaller, often privately-held opaque banks: «They are less open to addressing the topic of sexual harassment.»

Her view is confirmed by Kamales Lardi. The digital consultant and owner of Lardi & Partner said she doesn’t have the feeling that financial firms are addressing #metoo proactively. «However, some banks and other companies have raised the topic in response to incidences or concerns among employees, or addressed the topic as part of internal diversity and inclusion initiatives.»

Nothing Much Changed

The bottom line is, nothing much has changed as a result of more than a year of revelations which have toppled film mogul Harvey Weinstein and a host of well-known businessmen including Uber founder Travis Kalanick.

Instead, Wall Streeters are resorting to not conducting meetings with women in windowless rooms, not dining alone with women, or refraining from mentoring female colleagues, «Bloomberg» reported last week.

Drastic Measures

The drastic measures are rooted in fear of being falsely accused of harassment in a culture where women are frequently the minority – and often in subordinate roles to men. Wall Street hasn’t had its #metoo moment; Harold Ford Jr., a  former U.S. congressman and Morgan Stanley private banker, was fired from the U.S. bank, but not over allegations he intimidated and sexually harassed a female reporter.

In banking, where women are a rarity in the C-suite, executives are also worried about the blurred lines between flirtation and harassment. The risk of being falsely accused is minimal, as a 2010 study cited by the «BBC» showed, but it looks to be #MeToo’s main legacy in banking.

Until the Next Hashtag

It all began a year ago when U.S. actress Alyssa Milano reacted to the Weinstein scandal with a tweet asking readers to respond with a ‹me too› if they also had fallen victim of sexual harassment or been attacked.

The 200,000 #MeToo-posts that flooded her account kick-started the movement and since then, all hell seems to have broken loose in big corporations from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. And still, the example of the banking industry seems to suggest that #MeToo won’t have been the last hashtag.

Big Bank Worries

Big banks had their own worries that kept them busy this year. UBS for instance hired a high-ranking human resource manager in a bid to calm the waters after a former member of staff said she had been raped.

The way the bank had handled the allegations was much criticized. Apart from hiring a dedicated HR manager, the bank also introduced a hotline for victims of sexual harassment.

Rape in London

Over at Credit Suisse, a suspected case of rape – also in London – became a matter for CEO Tidjane Thiam after the victim sent him a letter. Thiam ordered an investigation into the case.

The only problem: the letter reached Thiam at the end of February, but had been posted at the beginning of the year. Thiam ordered a second investigation to learn the reason for the delay. Emboldened by the developments at UBS, the victim at Credit Suisse decided to also go public.

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