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#metoo Credit Suisse sackings offer hopeful example on sexual misconduct

Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam

Credit Suisse chief Tidjane Thiam has committed to escalate serious cases of sexual misconduct to the executive board.


Back in the spring, Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam wrote an emollient letter to a former employee who had complained of a sexual assault by a manager. He pledged to investigate CS’s handling of the 2010 incident, and put the bank’s most senior woman in charge of the probe.

It had been several years since the complainant left CS, and ceased her campaign to have the bank take action against the manager. But she revived her original allegation amid the #MeToo anti-sexism movement.

The Financial Times report of the news met cynicism in some quarters. Might Mr Thiam, a smooth financier who joined CS five years after the alleged assault took place, simply be currying good PR? Would anything really come of the inquiry? As the months dragged on, it began to look as if the promised “thorough review” was indeed hot air.

Over the summer, though, the cynics were silenced when it emerged that the manager accused of assault had been sacked, along with another executive who was found to have hampered the original investigation.

The 2010 incident was not straightforward. Undisputed is that the accuser, then a junior banker, had gone out to a bar with a group of people including the manager. Later a sexual incident took place, prompting a complaint of assault by the junior banker — both to the police and to CS. But the manager claimed it was consensual and denied wrongdoing. The police dropped their investigation, citing insufficient evidence, and the bank took no disciplinary action. It is that last action that has been dramatically reversed now.

The story has split opinion, much as the sexist practices of the Presidents Club dinner, exposed by the FT in January, were defended by a City old guard as heartily as they were excoriated by the majority. Some accuse CS of pandering to political correctness, assuming a male boss was at fault without proof.

But however contested elements of the case were, the manager did not dispute that sexual contact had taken place — only whether it was consensual or not. This is enough for an employer to take action, as has now happened at CS. Anyone with a position of power cannot be allowed to exploit their influence through any kind of sexual contact.

The CS case is just one example of a vast problem. An FT survey late last year heard from nearly 200 individuals, most of them in finance, who told of sexual misconduct in the workplace. The accounts included several alleged rapes.

In a rape allegation by a former junior UBS banker that came to light in July, the bank did at least suspend the manager who had been accused. But, as was originally the case with the historic CS incident, the female accuser felt unsupported by her employer and left.

After shoddy treatment by UBS’s human resources department, she said news of Mr Thiam’s intervention at CS inspired her to write to Andrea Orcel, head of the Swiss group’s investment bank. Mr Orcel did not respond until inquiries from several news organisations alerted him to media interest in the story: hardly inspiring.

Here are three changes that financial services groups could make to overhaul a sorry history of dealing with anything from sexist behaviour to all-out sexual assault.

Measure performance

As the old saying goes, what isn’t measured isn’t managed. HR departments should be compiling thorough databases of accusations of sexism and inappropriate behaviour, logging how they are investigated and tracking outcomes. Serious cases should be escalated to the executive board, as CS has now pledged.

Fix the gender imbalance

With three-quarters of senior finance jobs held by men, there is a natural inclination to see things from a male perspective when a sexual misconduct allegation is made. This is just one reason why there should be more women in senior roles. But driving out promising juniors by treating them badly is only compounding the imbalance.

Don’t be complicit in an industry cover-up

The Libor scandal revealed the rigging of interest rate benchmarks by networks of unscrupulous bankers. In many cases, even when they were discovered by their employers, and edged out, they were given references for jobs elsewhere. Regulatory reforms have sought to deal with this issue by obliging wrongdoing to be divulged to future employers. The same should apply to sexual offences.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018​​​​​​​

The Financial Times

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