sexual assault in financial services
Warning trigger: The following article contains references to sexual assault
I recently reached out to my community of women in the profession to ask for their stories about sexism. I asked if anyone had any examples of discrimination or sexism in their career. As expected, they quickly provided the content for an article.
What I didn’t expect was the avalanche of stories I received that weren’t examples of discrimination or sexism. In fact, it was very clearly sexual assault, and it wasn’t stories worth fussing about, it was an entire book’s worth. It was heartbreaking and I felt sick for days.
At the risk of sounding like a woman complaining of sexual assault, just a reminder: sexual assault is all type of sexual contact or behavior without the recipient’s consent.
For context, I’ve provided just a handful of these stories below:
“I was told ‘he only grabbed your breasts, you better not fuss’.”
“I was offered a promotion to team leader if I was ‘willing to do what (another woman) had done with him’.”
“My manager thought it would be nice to put his hand on my leg, try to hold my hand and rub my back at every event we’ve been to.”
âI was bending down to sign a piece of paper, when a colleague approached me from behind and decided to pinch my butt. I was six months pregnant at the time.
âA client decided that as a reward for signing a request, he should put his hand on my skirt.
“A colleague stole my hotel room key as a ‘joke’ and told me I could only get it back if I slept with him.”
âI had an older client who told me that he has been with his ‘current’ wife for 50 years, but that there is room in her bed for me. When he was reported to my boss he laughed and said ‘he’s still a little mean’.
âThree years ago, a man in a senior position grabbed my butt and told me I had a ‘nice ass’ at a conference. The same person made sure to sit next to me at a dinner party and stroke my leg under the table.
âOne of the senior managers from my last job was always waiting at the front desk to see what I was wearing when I arrived, and never failed to crouch down a bit and rub his hands up and down her thighs all the time. looking at me. I wasn’t the only woman he did this to.
âI was at a conference where an organizer was taking a photo of the administrator’s cleavage ‘for fun’. Everyone laughed at it. “
âI once saw an advisor forge a signature on an application form. I questioned him when we got back to the car, where he put his hand on my knee, laughed and said “Well, you won’t tell anyone, and even if you did, it is your word against mine “. I reported this and it was not taken seriously because I was ‘disrupting sales’.
I have a lot more graphic examples, but I’m pretty confident they could never have been printed.
It’s easy to assume that these stories are from another era, but I have checked the dates and many of them have occurred in the past five years. It is not a thing of the past, it is still the daily reality for many women in this profession.
Not all men
We don’t need to be told it’s ânot just menâ. Following the murder of Sarah Everard, this toxic statement was broadcast on all social networks.
For clarity, of course, not all men are murderers, we already know that. Ellie Gibson (@scummymummies on Twitter) had a fantastic analogy to help explain this. There are 500 species of sharks. Only three species eat humans. So while your chances of being eaten by a shark are slim, that chance still exists. But, if a fin is heading towards you in open water, are you likely to think “statistically it will be fine”? Probably not.
The next generation
On a phone call with a peer recently, he asked me what I was trying to accomplish. That’s a fair question, and I have a very clear answer: I want to be able to actively defend this profession in good conscience. Everything I do is to improve this profession for the next generation of women. We all talk about the fact that we need more young people in the profession and that this is a great career choice. We are talking about recruitment through universities and the provision of apprenticeships. What we don’t discuss is how safe the culture is for the younger generation. I explained to her that, as it is, women in this profession will tend to say âI’m going to point you to a good companyâ, and by that we mainly mean âthey have professional integrityâ. We also want to say âI think you will be safe hereâ. And yes, I mean physically.
In short, I don’t want to have to tell the next generation “this is how to safely navigate shark infested waters” to the next generation. I want to be able to say “come in!” The water is hot.
In response to that, my peer made a good point, he said âand that concerns young men too, right? Because we have to stop putting them in a situation where they can become sharks. Which brings me to my main focus for this article.
Do you remember sex education in school? I don’t know about your generation, but for mine it went like this:
“Here’s the biology, don’t get pregnant, don’t get STDs, don’t get pregnant.” And that was the extent of it. We weren’t talking about what healthy sex looked like.
I know with good authority that times have changed and consent is now widely discussed as part of the curriculum. But we missed something, and it often wasn’t discussed or demonstrated at home either. I am convinced that many adults, even now, do not really understand it. So, I’m going to make it super easy to understand:
Anything less than enthusiastic participation is not consent.
I know you’re probably thinking “why the hell am I reading about consent in a trade magazine?” But again I’ll remind you how relevant this is. I conducted a survey in my community of women to find out how many women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their careers. Of the 126 women who responded, 76 had been assaulted by a man at some point in the line of duty.
Plus, I hear a lot of men say they are worried about their daughters or want to make the world a better place for them. If so, we all need to start taking action every day, in all aspects of our lives, including our professional lives.
Making consent a culture
For all senior executives in all companies, here is my call to action: making consent a corporate culture. It can be an awkward conversation, but creating an environment where there is no tolerance for unwanted employee sexualization is essential for the next generation.
Seize opportunities to proactively communicate what is and is not acceptable behavior.
It is of the utmost importance to have a safe referral line for women. It would be wonderful if we could assume that a woman could report directly to her supervisor or management structure. However, it is sad that often the attacker is that person.
And my most important point is to be clear and strict about how the reports will be handled and each of them will be investigated and taken seriously.
Make it part of your business that you actively monitor this behavior. Make women feel safe, make sure potential sharks are not allowed to get more daring.
Why not interview your employees anonymously and start to understand their experiences, and what is going on within your business that you may not have seen firsthand?
And my last point on this is to always, always believe her. Sharks have felt safe for too long because âit’s his word against mineâ has been a safety net. And they were right, for the path of least resistance is to ignore, reject, or belittle woman. It takes immense courage for a woman to speak out, in a world and a culture where she is encouraged not to.
If you too want to make this profession better for the younger generation, start taking action.
Charlotte Wood is a Director and Certified Financial Planner at Rosewood Financial Planning
Out of respect for the women who shared their stories, the author has requested that comments be closely watched on this article.