The London Paper – 28 May 2007
We all know that “sex is the breakfast of champions” but if you’re a woman at an investment bank it is a meal that may repeat on you. This happens when everyone knows you’ve been on a first date with some chap and you come in the next morning reeking of booze and wearing the same clothes. In this scenario, you then have to undergo, what is known in the City, as “the walk of shame”. This early morning stumble, from the lifts, through the massive open-plan trading floor to your desk makes anything on ‘The Weakest Link’ seem like a pleasant stroll in the park.
Anyway, the other day a young female broker made the schoolboy error of telling a few of us that she was going on a first date with ‘a nice guy’ she’d met at some dreadful club called Infernos. The morning after, she came in an hour late, head bowed and red of face and attempted to creep to her desk without giving the game away. Even a fashion ignoramus like me recognised she was wearing the same beige pencil skirt and bright yellow flowery shirt.
The reaction of the male brokers whose desks surrounded hers revealed once again the similarities between stockbrokers and primary schoolchildren. What began as the odd knowing wink and titter soon reached a crescendo of whispering and pointing until at last some wag blurted: ‘Good night then, was it?’ At that point I, and pretty much everyone else, cracked up and her face went so puce that if Dulux had been there they could have named a new colour in her honour; perhaps ‘Scarlet lady’.
The difference between how a man and woman is treated by his peers in these scenarios reminds us all of just how sexist society, and especially investment banking, remains. When I was a more reckless young man I too on occasion had to come to the office in the same clothes due to an unplanned indiscretion. In that fortunate circumstance I would describe my passage from lift to desk as the ‘march of pride’. Instead of an attempt to hide my misdemeanour, my chin would be held high and I would, on occasion, receive high fives from all my seated colleagues as I passed them on the way to my desk. On one occasion, when it was known that I was going out with a minor celebrity my ‘swagger of success’ received a spontaneous standing ovation from my male colleagues and I responded with a theatrical bow complete with fluttering hand motion.
Despite major advances it still seems that in investment banking a man who shags around is a stud whilst a woman who ‘puts it about’ is a slapper. Female brokers especially have a pressure on them to not appear to be floozies because that image hardly goes hand in hand with being a respected professional. This kind of sexism really, really annoys me … not because I’m a hard-core feminist but because it encourages my female peers into living artificially chaste lives and that’s just no good for a single cad-about-town like me.