During my time in finance, I’ve come across plenty of “office romances”. In particular, I’ve known several women who’ve had relationships with senior, often older, male staff. In the current climate, however, this kind of thing has become highly inadvisable.
It seems there are a variety of reasons why young women in banking gravitate towards the older men. It may be that they’re attracted to power, or to financial security. It may be that they’re looking for career advancement. It may simply be that they like the other person.
Is there anything wrong with these relationships? In my opinion there is not, unless one of the people involved is abusing their position to give or to receive favours, or is trying to compel the other person to do something they want to do. Harassment is about power.
At the banks I’ve worked at, relationships with subordinates – be they male or female – are discouraged, but not banned. They are not against the company rules. Male managing directors who want relationships with female juniors are free to do so, but they go down this route at their peril.
In the current climate, if a woman complains about a male MD, his career can easily be over. Any indication that a man has been having a relationship with a subordinate, even if complaints have been made by colleagues who are simply jealous, can be enough to raise damaging questions.
Most banks are trying to cut costs. Letting go of senior staff can be costly in terms of severance pay. Because of this, there seems to be a massive incentive for banks to simply fire anyone accused of sexual harassment – rightly or wrongly. There’s a lot less incentive for banks to investigate accusations and to potentially exonerate the accused. Effectively, therefore, the accused becomes harassed by the individuals making false claims.
I’m not saying that this always happens. But it does happen sometimes. I’ve even seen HR departments sexualize work-related conflicts between male and female staff in a way that is not fair and does not respect both the accuser and the accused. If you’re a man in finance, therefore, it’s just not worth starting a relationship at work – particularly with any junior women who may say they want to. Look outside the industry instead! Happy Valentine’s Day.
Ray Mond is the pseudonym of an employee at a U.S. bank