Sexism and the City : London's Old-Boy Financial District Wakes Up to the New World

Article excerpt

When Linda Davies began her investment-banking career back in 1985, "big bang" financial reforms were about to remake London's stuffy City. Women and "barrow boys"--young, working-class traders, hungry for the massive bonuses common in the field--were breaking into a clubby old-school network that had reigned for centuries. The barrow boys were accepted, recalls Davies. The women were not. For six months after she started, an older member of the firm refused to acknowledge her, claiming that female executives were "unnatural." Younger colleagues would grope her. On the trading floor, fellow dealers once trussed her up in Scotch tape when she was trying to complete a deal on the phone.

Back then, women didn't dream of complaining. "The perception was that, as a female, you were jolly lucky to have a job in the golden streets of the City," explains Davies. That may finally be changing. Over the past few weeks two high-profile cases have underscored the City's worst excesses and the sense that Britain's courts, as well as its high-flying female executives, are no longer willing to tolerate gender discrimination. In June, Julie Bower, a beverage-industry analyst, was awarded $2.13 million in compensation from the investment bank Schroders for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. An employment tribunal ruled that the $38,000 bonus she was awarded was "insultingly low" and part of a concerted campaign to oust her. (Schroders says it did not want to waste time and resources on a drawn-out appeal.) The same month Louise Barton, one of the City's top media analysts, lodged a suit against Investec, her former employer, alleging that less experienced colleagues were paid substantially more than she was. Investec denies the charge and attributes Barton's stunted salary to a withdrawn personality and an uncooperative attitude.

The two cases have brought home the persistence of old-school attitudes in the City--glimpses of which have come out in recent suits involving Japanese and German firms, as well as British ones. In a trial last year, trader Isabelle Terrillon alleged that pornographic magazines had been passed around in meetings at her firm, Nomura International, and when a client complained of a backache, a colleague suggested she strip off and give him a massage. (Nomura settled her claim of unfair dismissal for $106,000.) Kay Swinburne, one of the City's top investment bankers, was awarded $760,000 two years ago after being forced to quit her job with Deutsche Bank when she complained about escort girls' being hired for company parties and after being accused by her boss of sleeping with a client. …