Byline: CHRIS BLACKHURST
THERE can be few more homophobic places in which to work than the City of London.
Anyone who says different is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
The atmosphere in the Square Mile, from mail rooms to trading floors, corporate finance departments to law and accountancy firms and boardrooms, is unremittingly male, white and heterosexual.
Jokes, told directly or circulated on the internet, are blue, women are sex objects, gays and lesbians targets of derision. People reading this may huff and claim otherwise. They are ignorant or in denial. Still, though, times are changing. A combination of legislative reform, an increasingly vociferous, more PC, international presence - especially from the US - and ferocious competition among employers for the brightest and the best hirings, regardless of sexual orientation, are combining to create a hitherto unimaginable level of tolerance.
It's early days, but years ago it would have been unthinkable that banks and others would openly promote gay and lesbian groups within their organisations. Citigroup has three internal associations aimed at specialinterest groups among its staff: CitiRoots, for ethnic minorities; CitiWomen, focusing on gender issues; and Citipride, targeting gays and lesbians. UBS has Gay@UBS in this country and UBS Pride in the US. JP Morgan officially sponsors JP Morgan Pride. McKinsey has GLAM, gays and lesbians at McKinsey.
The idea behind such groupings is to ensure that everyone feels included, not excluded. Management and staffing issues take into account sexuality, and employees can receive support from, and can network with, likeminded colleagues.They also serve two other, less overt, purposes: to militate against potentially embarrassing litigation; and to act as a carrot at recruitment fairs and in job interviews.
It's impossible to estimate the trauma caused to a City company by being hauled over the coals in an industrial tribunal case. Used to not revealing anything about themselves in public, they are catapulted into the full glare of Press coverage.
Closely guarded secrets like pay and bonus details, and behind-the-scenes attitudes to clients and deals, suddenly become general property.
In recent years, such hearings have concentrated on women and race.
Now, though, new equality laws and the Sid Saeed case (see right) have set alarm bells ringing. Across the Square Mile, there must be other banks and firms watching Saeed's action against Deutsche Bank and praying they are not next. What, for too many in the City, has long been regarded as poking harmless fun is now very serious indeed.
Jane Mann, head of employment at lawyers Fox Williams, says: "People may think it is a joke but in a sustained way these sorts of comments can cause offence and the level of offence can make someone feel they are unable to work - that is where the real damage is done. …