Sexual harassment then and now

I worked in the City in the early 1980’s. The language was pretty awful, verbal harassment was a daily occurrence in certain areas (trading and broking) and what men got up to after work and even at lunch times (School Dinners was a favourite, or even a visit to Shepherds Market) just wouldn’t be tolerated today. Or would it?

When I went to my first investment analysts’ dinner, held at the Grosvenor House hotel, my boss took me to one side and said’ whatever you do, don’t get in a lift with any man on your own after 10pm’. I was rather taken back, after all these were mostly analysts and fund managers, well- behaved compared to the rather more wild traders and brokers, so I thought in my ‘experienced’ twenty- two year old head ‘ what nonsense!’. But by about 9pm I looked around the room of about five hundred men and forty women and understood his warning. Someone I had considered very upright and proper had already lurched at me as I passed him in the corridor. Alcohol affects all of us but very often the mix of men away from wives, large amounts of alcohol and the presence of a few women can lead men to behave without inhibition and it is not a pretty sight. Years later when doing some research  on male socialising (almost impossible to do as a female researcher and so I relied on men I knew to tell me what went on), one man told me  ‘ All I can say is that women don’t want to know how  a group of drunk  men talk about women when they are not there. They would be shocked.’ 

It is disappointing then that this behaviour continues forty years on, as news of sexual harassment and even alleged rapes at the CBI emerge. My research shows that most often it is one or a handful of men who are badly behaved and serially harass women. But organisations which do not deal with them i.e. get rid of them when complaints are upheld, are guilty of collusion. And this is what seems to have occurred at the CBI

Sacking the offenders, when they may bring in a lot of business or occupy high profile positions is a real test of how seriously leadership take the issue of sexual harassment, and how seriously they take their responsibility to female employees.

The haste with which big corporates run from the reputational damage incurred by stories at the CBI isn’t surprising but may in some cases be rather hypocritical. It wasn’t long ago that several hundred business men attended a male only dinner of the President’s Club at the Dorchester and behaviour there wasn’t exactly anything to boast about.