The Bittersweet Smell of Testosterone
Welcome to the City of London, the most dynamic square mile on the planet. A place where fortunes and reputations are forged and destroyed every day. A place which attracts the most competitive, aggressive and ambitious of individuals and invites them to go head to head to vie for multi million pound deals and fight for limited bonus pools. Pure social Darwinism, the weak need not apply.
‘The stale smell of machismo has always been prevalent in the city, surely everyone knows the hazards they may face should they choose to enter.’
Given the city’s genetic make up, and its reputation, it seems surprising that people insist on claiming surprise and indignation when they read the latest headline alluding to some poor cityworker who has been brutally bullied and harassed and is suing their beastly ex-employer for ridiculous amounts of money. Are they appalled at the behavior that this person has had to endure, or that they have the audacity to blame their shortcomings on their environment?
How easy is it to feel sympathy for someone who has had to suffer a six figure salary and enormous bonuses for the past decade? The stale smell of machismo has always been prevalent in the city, surely everyone knows the hazards they may face should they choose to enter.
According to the BBC study “City Exposed” over half of workers in the square mile have experienced harassment. It’s common to encounter aggressive tactics ranging from racial and sexual abuse, to verbal bullying, physical violence and public humiliation. In some cases the abuse can take the form of career-blocking, unequal pay, losing bonuses and a general "school-yard mentality". The study paints a picture of a culture in which drug taking, pornography and obscenities are commonplace.
If there is a price to pay for the rewards to be had, it’s the privilege of working in a cut-throat, hostile and testosterone charged environment. What is particularly poignant about the BBC study is that less than a quarter of those who had experienced harassment even contemplated making a complaint. The majority simply accepted their prevailing conditions as part of the city and tried to deal with it accordingly. They chose to sell their soul to the corporate devil and left their right to complain at the door.
The city’s primary purpose is to make money, not to create a cosy environment for the warmer side of human nature to blossom. There is a recognised imbalance, yet prior attempts to address it have been largely unsuccessful. Hence we are currently faced with a situation where we rely solely on laws which put discrimination right ex post facto rather than stopping it at (testosterone-fuelled) source.
We shift the burden of proof to the employers, we concentrate on broadening our concept of harassment (sexual orientation, religion, age), and face as a result an ever increasing volume of spurious and weak claims which never make it to tribunal, but simply take up valuable time and company resource.
‘He denies allegations that he had masturbated in a shower cubicle next to a colleague whilst looking at him in a way which made him feel uncomfortable.’
Each new piece of legislation brought in to combat discrimination triggers floods of fresh claims. Banks in the city have already faced a string of lawsuits from disgruntled women over unequal treatment and harassment and unless they initiate drastic changes to their macho culture, they now risk a new wave of gay discrimination claims.
An employment tribunal is currently deliberating the record £5million case of ex-HSBC bank executive Peter Lewis who alleges he was sacked for being gay. He denies allegations that he had masturbated in a shower cubicle next to a colleague whilst looking at him in a way which made him feel uncomfortable. Were the allegations to be true, it would suggest that Mr Lewis is as unsavoury a character as the workplace he inhabits.
Claims will undoubtedly surge again when age discrimination laws are introduced in October, and they would surge further should young, white, straight males be given a convenient piece of legislation upon which to frame a claim.
Helen Green, a company secretary at Deutsche Bank, is currently suing her employer for £1million, claiming that she was bullied. What is of particular interest is not so much the “school yard” behaviours which Miss Green endured, but the fact that she was subjected to them by other women. Her claim has been levelled specifically at four other women at the bank. She was made to cry and forced to breakdown by, amongst other things, being told that she “stank”, yet this was by her female peers. This wasn’t motivated by sexism or racism or any other ‘ism’, but was simple culling of the weak.
Counsel for Deutsche Group has insisted that “Miss Green didn’t have much to do with these women or them with her and, in so far as they didn’t get on, it was certainly as much her fault as theirs.” It was a high risk strategy, and she failed.
The employment tribunal must answer the question as to whether they suffered the insufferable, or whether they’re suing simply because they can. Beware those highly educated, driven individuals, who are aware of their legal rights and are accustomed to operating in a ferociously competitive arena. Beware those who find it much easier to sue their employers than they do to admit liability, or accept that they have failed to adapt and survive as well as they hoped. They will aggressively pursue any legal mechanism they can to seek recompense and solace for their massive, bruised egos.
Year on year city institutions are announcing record profits, and record bonus pools to boot. Stakeholders are very happy. Agree with it or not, there is definitely something in the dynamics of this ruthless environment which works, and works very well. The workplace has evolved over time to reach this point, and what we have now is the result of decades of natural selection. There’s an inevitability about progress and reform in any community, and whilst we could debate the potential for humanity to degenerate, it’s difficult to ignore the end result which is invariably stronger and more efficient.
Clearly legislation can change the way this the city operates, but do we really want it to? With all the newspaper heat that the city receives, it becomes very easy to lose sight of its positives. It is one of the most successful products of our society, do we really want to see it neutered? As long as it carries the appropriate health warnings on its side, perhaps we should let people decide for themselves.