UK

City watchdog must do more to stamp down on sexual harassment in firms, MPs told

Baroness Helena Morrissey said the City watchdog needs to go further to stamp out sexual harassment and misogyny in the financial industry (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Baroness Helena Morrissey said the City watchdog needs to go further to stamp out sexual harassment and misogyny in the financial industry (Jonathan Brady/PA) Baroness Helena Morrissey said the City watchdog needs to go further to stamp out sexual harassment and misogyny in the financial industry (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The City watchdog needs to go further to stamp out sexual harassment and misogyny in the financial industry amid a pervasive culture of fear, MPs have been told.

Financier and equality campaigner Baroness Helena Morrissey said the regulator could better use its powers to tackle the problem and said an independent review into the sector might be necessary.

It came as MP Dame Angela Eagle called out the “pretty pathetic” consultation on diversity and inclusion produced by financial regulators.

During a Treasury Committee session, bosses of influential advocacy groups flagged the slow progress being made in tackling sexism in financial services jobs.

Baroness Morrissey told MPs: “I think we are at the stage where we might need independent investigations.”

She said the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says it will “only take disciplinary action over particularly serious incidents of bullying, harassment, or similar behaviour”, adding: “They don’t define what this is. I do think this is problematic.”

The financier, who chairs the campaign group Diversity Project, added: “We have had clear evidence that companies err on the side of caution in terms of the sanctions they apply to a perpetrator because they are afraid of ruining their career … so there has got to be a complete change of pace.”

A number of high-profile allegations of sexual harassment and assault have rocked the financial services sector this year.

Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey stepped down from his role as founder of Odey Asset Management in June after allegations against him were published by the Financial Times and Tortoise Media.

The allegations, which Mr Odey denied at the time, date from between 1998 and 2021 and involve 13 women who worked with or had professional dealings with him.

Coronavirus – Tue Jan 11, 2022
Coronavirus – Tue Jan 11, 2022 Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle said she thought the regulators’ consultation in diversity and inclusion was ‘pretty pathetic’ (House of Commons/PA)

Meanwhile, influential business lobbying group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has battled for survival after more than a dozen women came forward with allegations that they were sexually harassed while working for the company. Two women said they were raped by colleagues.

Dame Angela, Labour MP for Wallasey, said during the committee session that “everybody turned a blind eye” to behaviour that was alleged to be happening for 30 years at Odey’s firm and suggested the sector may need stricter regulatory oversight.

She also said she thought a consultation paper produced by the FCA and the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) was “pretty pathetic”.

The regulators last month proposed new measures to clamp down on harassment and bullying by boosting diversity and inclusion, which aim to make it easier for staff members to speak out or challenge behaviour they see at their firm.

They set out the proposals for regulatory change as part of a 12-week consultation.

Fiona Mackenzie, chief executive of The Other Half, said the watchdogs need to set out clearly how they will enforce disciplinary action against perpetrators at financial firms.

“They are probably better placed than advocacy groups because they have real powers to act against firms,” she told the MPs.