Maybe it was inevitable. No sooner had a junior female intern at a bank in London complained of inappropriate advances from her (male) boss during her internship last summer, than male bankers have begun complaining of abuse by senior women – and particularly by senior women in HR.
Two men have taken to the comments box below our previous article to complain of harassment by women in the City. One accuses women in HR of sexually harassing him. Another says he was the routinely subject to “inappropriate comments and advances” by his senior manager when he was an intern in a large British bank. “It was extremely humiliating,” he writes. “There is this false notion that men cannot be victims of sexual harassment.”
A VP at a U.S. bank says women in HR (and women generally) exploit their position in other ways too: “Pregnant women always complain about bonuses. Women always go to other women in HR to complain about promotions. And some women always go to HR so that they have the upper hand in redundancies.”
Men vastly outnumber women in senior banking roles (typically in the ratio of 4:1 at managing director) level, making it vastly easier for men to perpetrate abuse. However, women are generally in the majority in human resources (HR) functions, where they account for 58% of heads of HR according to think tank New Financial.
Andrew Pullman, a veteran City of London HR head, turned-managing director of banking HR support firm People Risk Solutions, says harassment in all businesses is linked to the abuse of power. While HR staff are supposed to be a check on the power of senior managers (and indeed supported the intern in our previous article), Pullman says HR staff have effectively been given more power by legislation like MiFID II, which imposes tighter guidelines on the minimum competency requirements of staff. This sets the stage for power struggles, says Pullman, adding that both male and female bosses can treat employees badly.
Whether female HR staff subject junior male staff to sexual harassment is another question. With women typically running junior selection processes, the potential for an abuse of power certainly exists, but HR isn’t a role that usually attracts predatory types.
Either way, junior male bankers aren’t alone in complaining about the women above them. A male trainee on the legal website RollonFriday says a female partner harassed he and a colleague on the trainee intake and that they decided not attend departmental drinks to avoid any awkward situations.