Sexism And The City

The London Paper  –  23 Apr 2007

Last week some bird at work had the audacity to claim I was sexist. Only joking – I would never use an inappropriate word like that. “Audacity”? But seriously, derogatory terms like ‘bird’, ‘chick’ or ‘babe’ have no place in the modern City office and regular readers of this column will know I simply will not abide them. Indeed, I would argue to my dying breath that I haven’t got a sexist bone in my body … well perhaps just the one.

Anyway, it appears that I’m not the only one in this God-forsaken place accused of being sexist. Last week City trader Katharina Tofeji began proceedings at a tribunal against her former employer, the investment bank BNP Paribas. This is the latest in a long list of legal cases brought against City institutions related to the ‘culture of sexism’ that she claims existed at her work place.

This latest case should come as no surprise to anyone who’s worked in the Square Mile. Perceptions that the City is a male-dominated bastion of out-dated chauvinistic thinking are, of course, essentially correct. There have been some improvements in the 10 years I’ve been working here, but my experience suggests that front-office jobs in the average investment bank are still around 80% men. Obviously this is partly because those most likely to succeed in the City are those that exhibit arrogance, aggression and ruthless ambition and these traits are, thank God, less likely to be found in the ‘fairer sex’. As a result of this some have suggested that those women who do work in finance have had to leave their ‘femininity’ at the door and become mini-Thatchers in order to succeed. In reality, one of Ms Tofeji’s complaints was that she was told to ‘use her female charms to woo clients’ which is a much more accurate reflection of the sexist dynamics in this despicable business.

Every day, I see around me female stock brokers flirting outrageously with their predominantly male clients and doing extremely well partly through this tactic. Since a good portion of the male clients in this industry are sexually-repressed losers it’s hardly a surprise that when offered the choice of having lunch with some ugly Neanderthal like me or some attractive lady who flatters their ego by pretending to find them attractive it’s what’s commonly referred to as a ‘no-brainer’. I mean, I’ve got a pair of man boobs to die for but that just won’t cut it with the discerning client these days.

We have to use every trick we can find in order to succeed in this hideously competitive industry. That the City’s male domination has forced certain women to use their feminine charms to woo clients is not only inevitable but, as far am I concerned, absolutely fine. What BNP Paribas have been accused of doing is asking a woman to do this which, if true, is not only stupid but about as necessary as my boss asking me to win business by taking clients to strip joints and downing champagne.

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