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The City is struggling to clean up its image amid accusations of bullying, harassment and discrimination

The City of London is one of the world’s most brutal and bestial places to work if a new survey of London’s financial district is to be believed.

More than half of the brokers, trades and analysts surveyed by the BBC said they had experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination. Half also said they thought their workplaces were hostile, aggressive and stressful.

This makes the City sound like somewhere that people are more likely to mine salt than gold.

Few people will admit it publicly, but one leading City employment lawyer says: “You only have to go out in the City on a Friday night at 6pm and see all the boys, and sometimes the girls too, behaving like louts to know it’s true”.

This has led to the late night trains north out of Liverpool Street station being dubbed the Vomit Comet. And certainly a number of high-profile legal complaints against investment banks and brokerages have given credibility to the suspicion that their slick facades mask an ugly culture.

Horseplay is an endemic part of the culture that exists in the highly charged environment of the dealing room. At Icap, the inter-dealer broker, there is a jacket on the trading floor with a W and an anchor on the back. Each Friday it is given to the dealer who most embarrassed himself that week. He must hang it on the back of his chair until the following Friday.

Michael Spencer, Icap’s chief executive, set the tone with his 20-page corporate Christmas card that features pictures of him and colleagues in various states of undress alongside scantily-clad women.

However, many firms, including Icap are working hard to clean up their image. Two years ago Icap stopped paying for lap-dancing on expenses, for example.

Norma Jarboe, director of Opportunity Now, says: “There is concerted work to make it an environment which is more diversity-friendly. The City acknowledges it is an issue.”

She says the large international banks have taken it more seriously than the smaller organisations. “They can have more central resources and have probably been operating in the US so they’re used to the issue”.

Banks are not only alive to the direct potential cost arising from claims or bullying and discrimination. They also realise that places that tolerate such behaviour will not attract the cerebral people needed to operate in the modern City, where routine work is increasingly automated and financial products are ever more complex.

Barry Rogers, of consultants Liberare, which specialises in this area, says: “You’re not going to entice the best talent into a work environment they perceive as toxic.”

As a result, many banks have appointed diversity managers and fund networking groups for women, gays and minorities.

Several are trying to recruit more diversely than in the past. Earlier this month JP Morgan hosted a conference for just under 10 of its peers and a group of recruitment consultants to press home their desire for more women and minorities.

Although the number of women in the city is high – about 40 per cent in the larger firms, executives say – they are still mostly among the junior staff.

However, there are no publicly-available statistics on the number of women, gays or ethnic minority staff who work in the City. This makes it difficult to tell whether any of the initiatives are having an impact.

Time Russell, head of employment at City lawyers, Norton Rose, says: “Bullying is less prevalent than it used to be but people are less willing to put up with it because there is much more acceptance of their rights to raise a grievance.”

Lawyers also concede that some employees throw in a discrimination or bullying claim to bolster their complaint about being dismissed or not being paid more.

Yet for all the mischievous claims, and for all the progress made by some firms, the BBC’s survey suggests the City is still struggling to smarten up its image.


“Financial Times” Charles Pretzlik: 23.10.03