The financial services sector — Wall Street and Bay Street in particular — is known to have a unique set of problems when it comes to enforcing a zero tolerance policy for workplace harassment.
One piece of ground-breaking evidence in that regard was discovered in the late 1990s, when 2,000 women joined a class action lawsuit against Smith Barney, which eventually paid out more than $150 million in settlements. Public settlements like this are rare. Secrecy is the rule.
Women on Wall Street and elsewhere in the financial sector are confronted by a huge machine of money and power. Few are able to fight it. Many are flattened by it.
Most women who experience sexual misconduct in this industry also encounter something unique to Wall Street, and even Canada’s Bay Street: the huge machine of money and power. Few are able to fight it. Many are flattened by it.
First of all, with so much money at stake, women who are making a small fortune are no more inclined to blow the whistle and put it at risk than are low-skill women who live from paycheck to paycheck. Both, in that way, can be hostages to miscreant bosses.
Secondly, when women at major financial services companies complain about sexual misconduct, they become part of a rigged system of forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements that effectively camouflage wrongdoing, make it impossible for other women to be alerted to potential predators in their company and industry, and allow misbehaving organizations to regard even huge financial settlements as simply a cost of doing business.
One courageous survivor blew the whistle on the stacked deck that confronts women on Wall and Bay. Renée-Eva Fassbender Amochaev was a broker who successfully sued Smith Barney, then a division of Citigroup, for gender discrimination.
“Everyone knows the system is rigged.”
She paints a picture of a Wall Street that can effectively insulate itself from its bad actors. As she told The New Yorker Magazine, “No one gets fired. Everyone on the inside knows the system is rigged. The bad behavior doesn’t become public. The end result remains a secret which ultimately perpetuates the problem.”
We have heard similar laments from women working on Wall Street and Bay Street, in big banks and giant insurance companies, who have experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct at its worst. In Kathleen Finlay’s case, the men responsible came from the world of investment banking. Unfortunately, The Zero Now Campaign™ can’t wave a magic wand and change a corrupt system (wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if women had as much power to do that as men?) But neither are we prepared to stand by and do nothing.
Now is the time for our best financial institutions to step up and set themselves apart by adopting a more visible program of commitment to addressing a terrible wrong that has confronted too many women in the workplace.
On the other side of the coin, it is important to recognize that not all financial services companies or big banks are cut from the same cloth. Many are well served by progressive leaders with a longstanding commitment to fairness and diversity. In that regard, the former chairman and CEO of Canada’s TD Bank, Ed Clark, comes to mind. It’s probably reasonable to say that most employees in these organizations are decent individuals who respect their colleagues — male and female.
So it is an ideal time for our best institutions, at this period of reckoning, to step up and set themselves apart by adopting a more visible program of commitment to addressing a terrible wrong that has confronted too many women in the workplace. We may be biased, but supporting and participating in The Zero Now Campaign’s™ Hire US Back™ initiative would be an excellent start.
We are fortunate, through The Zero Now Campaign’s™ mentoring program, to have experienced women in the financial services area who can help to guide victims confidentially through difficult times, and provide the emotional support and wisdom to make informed decisions about options and possible consequences. All of our mentors are survivors of sexual misconduct in the workplace and always listen with a sensitive ear and speak with a compassionate voice (that is, unless they are confronted by a perpetrator).
If you are a woman working in this sector who wants to talk, contact us in confidence here. You do not need to be alone.