Sexual harassment in investment banking
Sexual harassment is rearing its ugly head in the media industry after #MeToo. And the finance industry isn’t far behind. As a matter of fact, I think it might even be leading the race.
Most people have an idea of how the classic, sleazy 80s trader looks like. He combs his hair backward, slaps women’s butts, and he talks like Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street.
But that was the 80s. Now is now. Traders aren’t allowed hangovers until noon anymore. And most HR departments have grown so big you can’t even squint towards a woman’s breasts without getting a written warning. Right?
Beware that sexual harassment in investment banking is still a thing.
The industry hasn’t changed
We’re all playing the same, old tunes, but some of us are sick of dancing.
The hair gel might be different, and the strip club comments may be less obscene. But it’s all still there.
And if you’re a woman, you’re not supposed to talk about it. Because it was a “one-time thing,” and it will scare other women away from joining the biz.
Both my female colleagues and I have had some weird experiences in the banks where I’ve worked. Some things may seem innocent. But when layering it outside the other incidents that are downright ugly, it doesn’t look good.
Men comment on how you look from day 1
After only a few months with my first bank, a trader told me that I needed to start fixing my hair before the morning meetings. And that I should start wearing high heels more often.
He said that:
You have the potential to be pretty if you try harder.
I can guarantee you that none of the new male analysts that year was asked to comply with similar rules.
The same, married guy in his 40s also tried leaning over and kissing me several times at a work event. When I complained about his behavior in the office the next week, he claimed I should have taken it as a compliment.
Locker room talk is still a thing
Bonding over late dinners with the other associates and analysts in the office is often the nice part of being a banker. You unwind, and you get to know a bit more about your colleagues.
At times where I’ve been the only woman in the department, or at least the only woman at dinner, I’ve seen things quickly get out of hand.
It starts with guys commenting on girls from other firms or other departments. They are either ugly, have great asses, or are begging to be fucked.
And there are some downright gross comments. I left the table one day a 2nd-year analyst started describing how he would like to suck milk from the nipples of an 8-month pregnant woman working in back-office.
Then it gets closer. A week before a new female analyst started in my department, I really had enough. Guys were sending around a Facebook picture of the new analyst at dinner, asking if anyone had fucked her.
They were also kind enough to make a prioritized list of who should be allowed to take her home first.
I tried mentioning it to some of my bosses, but no one ever had a talk with any of the guys. They just told me to be more vocal at dinner and tell them their comments bothered me.
It’s a too big part of the culture
The comments and staring are accompanied by so much more. And it’s all being done at official company events, or with company signatures.
When fellow associates and analysts were arranging a summer party, an invite went out to all the guys in the company. I was the only woman who got one.
The invite read something like “this invite is for the cool dawgs in M&A and some of the losers in Equity Research. If you RSVP yes to this invite, you are expected to bring a lot of booze and fuck tonnes of chicks.”
The invite was sent out through the company e-mail, and it came with matching pictures.
Probably meant as innocent fun from the guy who sent it. But receiving it on top of everything else did not feel great.
And now to the more serious issues
Maybe we can call some of this “innocent banter” or “boys playing around”. But you didn’t think it stopped there, did you?
One girl in a similar position was given a gift card for sex toys by a much older MD as a thank you for working on a deal. She left during her first year.
I have given up on counting how many times I’ve been asked by colleagues, bosses, and sometimes even clients, to join them for “late night drinks” after an event. Some have even been so cocky that they’ve spelled it out and asked if I wanted to come home with them and have sex.
One evening, my colleagues and I went out to dinner with some clients. Purely to entertain them and build relationships. We were a group of around twelve people, and I was the only woman there.
We didn’t go to a strip club, but we might as well have. When we were in the bar later in the evening, my boss started offering people around the table some pills similar to Viagra.
It got awkward. As far as I could tell, no one took the pills. There wasn’t a lot to say. I left early, and I didn’t stop to think about how inappropriate it was until several days later when someone else in the market had started talking about the dinner and asked me if I was there.
The deepest and darkest
The absolute worst moment of my career came after a few years at the first bank I ever worked.
It was late. I had just left work to go out with friends. The head of one of our departments in New York was in town for meetings, and we started talking in the middle of the crowded club.
He told me he had some really important news. It was about people being fired in Q1. He said he would tell me if I promised to keep it quiet.
It may have been stupid, but I joined him for coffee in the flat the bank was renting for him. It was right next to the club, and I made it clear that we went there strictly to talk business.
Trapped in his apartment
He told me that several of my bosses were getting fired in an upcoming restructuring. He gave me a list of names he claimed to have gotten from the CEO of the entire bank. Then it really started to get uncomfortable.
He told me he thought we could make a good team. He then suggested that if I was “with him”, he would make sure I was taken care of after the restructuring of the department.
His hand crept up towards my thigs. I pushed him away and said I wasn’t interested in that. He tried again. I had to push hard this time. That, he didn’t like.
He went on to threaten to get me fired if I didn’t sleep with him. I grabbed my coat and walked towards the door.
You can’t leave without your phone, he said.
My work phone dangled in his hand. I got so mad. I had to physically wrestle it out of his hands.
As I walked towards the elevator, he followed me. He stood in my way and tried to stop me from leaving. At the same time, he kept threatening me. Saying I would get fired if I dared to mention this to anyone. That he had ways of finding out if I did.
I started crying, and he just laughed.
When I finally got down to the ground floor, I completely collapsed. I frantically texted on my phone, trying to describe everything that had just happened. I sent an e-mail to HR, and one to my boss.
But where is HR?
Don’t expect HR to be there for you. HR is there to make sure the company isn’t sued when someone leaves or gets fired. They are not there to be your friend.
The only comment I got when reporting the guy who threatened to get me fired, was that HR couldn’t do anything because it had happened after work.
They made him apologize to me, but that was it. He seemed to actually be sorry for what he did, but it didn’t make the situation less awkward for me.
What happened in Q1?
My other bosses did get fired less than two months later. I did not. I still started looking for a new job, and I left the company right after. The guy from New York still works there.
Maybe I was unlucky. Maybe it was just my bank. I have a hard time believing that though.
Sexual harassment in investment banking isn’t the black swan most of us would want it to be. It isn’t in any industry.
When movie sleazeball Harvey Weinstein got called out, other heads suddenly started rolling as well.
The VC industry has seen its fair share of that, with Steve Jurvetson being forced to take a leave of absence from DFJ because of sexual assault allegations.
If the VC funds are cleaning out their closets, maybe some investment banks should do the same?
Update: After working for one year in a new country, I’ve noticed a huge difference between cities. New York and London seem to take harassment issues much more seriously than the rest of Europe.