OpinionJun 20 2018

Sexism in the City

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Sexism in the City

I love a Statement Of The Bleeding Obvious, but the Treasury Select Committee has outdone itself this time.

Apparently, there is an ‘alpha male’ culture in the City. Crikey. Who knew?

OK, so enough of the sarcasm already. But really, is this something that needed investigating to come up with that as a headline? Probably not.

However, there is a very serious point to all of this, and it relates to the way that women are treated. Not just in the City, I might add, although that is what I will look at here, but also the way that women perceive themselves.

The language associated with women who are assertive is often derogatory, and there is no reason why it should be.

There is no doubt there are double standards in the workplace – particularly in the City – when it comes to the way men and women are allowed to be.

A strident man taking risks and barking at employees might be considered a strong leader, someone to be reckoned with. A woman doing the same would likely be seen as something I cannot write in a newspaper, or dismissed as ‘hormonal’.

The language associated with women who are assertive is often derogatory, and there is no reason why it should be.

You see, very often women are dismissed for the traits that are seen in men as being strong, domineering and even entrepreneurial when they present them.

It is not enough for a woman to be strong and ‘thrusting’ – and yes I have used that word on purpose. They also have to be nurturing, demure, engaging, caring and considerate, otherwise they are somehow considered to be less of a ‘woman’.

Intrinsically, this does not make sense, unless you expect the same of a man in a similar position. Yet we don’t.

Treated with contempt

This is not just a men versus women question either. I have seen many women being equally catty when talking about their sisters who are either ambitious or trying to make progress in their careers.

That said, though, the reasons given earlier this month by companies who do not have women on their executive boards spoke loud and clear about the contempt that a lot of men in the City have for their female counterparts.

The excuses for why more women were not on the boards of FTSE 350 companies were branded ‘pitiful’ and ‘pathetic’ – and that is, frankly, too lenient.

One business leader even claimed that women would struggle to deal with ‘extremely complex issues’, other excuses included that women did not ‘want the hassle or pressure’ of sitting on the board, or that companies had one woman on their board already, so they were ‘done’. I mean, you could not make it up, could you?

But the fact that these are the responses given to authorities, with all of the associated weight that could be brought to bear as a result, means the men making these excuses feel like they are entirely justified in what they are saying. Justified. Yes, I know.

Now, many of you reading this might agree with what they are saying, or you might take the opposite view and cannot understand why any man would be so dismissive of women because a diverse workforce makes the best progress in business. You would be right too.

Women equal higher profits

Research by the Peterson Institute and EY in 2016, which was quoted in the Financial Times, makes the point succinctly.

The study looked at the performance of 21,000 companies in 91 countries, and found that when women were moved into higher management positions, the profitability of companies improved.

If companies had 30 per cent of their management positions filled by women, the company could expect to add up to six percentage points to their net margin when compared with companies that had no female leaders.

In 2017, McKinsey updated research from 2015 – also quoted in the FT – which found that companies with gender diversity levels in the top quartile were likely to outperform their national industry average by more than a fifth. You can read the article here if you are interested.

Take the blinkers off

Therefore, having no female leaders not only does not make sense from a diversity perspective, it simply does not make sense from a business perspective either.

Sure, I can appreciate it might feel easier to have a club where you all think, and look, the same, which makes running a business less challenging, but if – as most people are – you are in business to make money, then that blinkered thinking does not make sense.

More should be done to help women get into top management positions, but I do not think this should all come from the men who are currently ensconced.

For sure there needs to be an attitude shift here, but women too need to be more supportive of each other, and keener to stick up for each other when someone is being derogatory about one of us, and we also need to have a much better understanding of our real worth.

Only when this starts to be built into our male and female psyche, from a very early age, will things change dramatically, and in our relatively still patriarchal society, that is a change that needs to be made pronto. 

Alison Steed is a freelance journalist