This summer I interned in the investment banking division of a European bank in London. It went well: I got an offer to come back and work here when I graduate, but the experience was marred by a serious problem I had with my boss.
I’m not writing this because I want to attack my boss or to get him into more trouble than he’s already in. I’m writing this because I’m angry and want to get it out there. Hollywood has – or had – Harvey Weinstein. Banks have men like my boss.
When I arrived for the internship, it was pretty clear that this man – an experienced banker who’s worked in the City for years – was having marital problems. I knew it, and so did all his colleagues. We couldn’t not know it: he was often on the phone in the office talking about his messy divorce. We could hear what he was saying and it was very awkward. There were arguments with his wife, conversations with family members; things that colleagues shouldn’t be witness to.
Maybe it was because of these marital problems that my boss started making unwanted advances on me. The first time, he called me “baby” and “darling” and asked me to go for a drink with him. I turned him down; I was polite about it and explained that I didn’t want to get involved with anyone at work.
Some men who’ve been told “no” think it’s ok to try again. My boss was one of those. The next time we were alone in the office, he came up behind me and put his hands on me, asking why I didn’t like to be touched. He also said – in somewhat fewer words – that he wanted to sleep with me.
Now, I was just an intern. I worked hard to get that internship and I really wanted an offer at the end of it. My boss would be instrumental in me getting that offer. He knew that and he was exercising his power.
Even so, I went to HR. I actually went to HR the first time, just to let them know that he’d made an advance. This made it easier to go again the second time, when he touched me. They were hugely supportive. I was preparing to make an official complaint of sexual harassment when he left. Overnight. I got in the next day and he’d cleared all his stuff. I haven’t seen him since. Maybe he got a whiff of what was coming.
In some ways, I was lucky. Lucky that I had the courage to go to HR and talk out against a man who seemed to have power over my future. Lucky too that he wasn’t aggressive. And lucky that I had the support of the bank and my other bosses (some of whom were very angry).
However, his actions made me wonder about the experience of other young women in banking. This is an industry with a lot of men in senior positions and a lot of young women lower down the hierarchy. Those men have an opportunity to abuse this power. The fact that my (ex-) boss was so bold made me question whether he’d behaved like this before and got away with it. He’d had plenty of opportunity to do so during his long career.
There are a lot of good men in finance. There are also some young women who use their gender to their advantage and send confusing signals. However, the gender imbalance in banking is so skewed that – like Hollywood – this is an industry with significant potential for the abuse of male power. Until there are more women at the top, it’s up to HR departments and good men – like my other bosses – to protect young women whose careers are only just beginning.
Laura Smith is the pseudonym of an intern at a bank in London.