Hollywood had its Harvey Weinstein moment. Banking had its BNP Paribas moment. Now it seems that financial recruitment firms need to have a moment of their own: women in the recruitment industry say harassment and sexism is endemic and that almost nothing is being done about it.
"I hear what women say about the sexism on trading desks and I think, 'That's nothing,'" says one senior female finance recruiter in London, speaking on condition of anonymity. "In recruitment it's 10,000 times worse. The sexism and harassment in financial services recruitment is horrific."
The flashpoint in recruitment firms is Thursday nights. Thursday nights are drinking nights, and are when male directors will often take more junior female staff on office trips to bars and clubs. "In my team we continuously had a problem with one of the male directors on Thursdays," says the finance recruiter. "Every time we hired a new pretty junior member of staff he'd be all over her. I had to make sure I went along to defend her and if I didn't, something would almost always happen. I had quite a few young women leave as a result."
She says the firm, which is well-established in London, would hire young female recruiters purely on the basis of their looks ("I'd hear them talking among themselves after the interview and they'd be discussing the interviewee's chest") and that senior managers would send firm-wide emails about the women who'd hooked up with male employees on Thursday nights.
She herself has now left the company, but says the director with a reputation for harassing women is still firmly in place. "Recruitment firms don't have the kinds of checks that banks have, and they often hire very young people. You get these 24 year-old men managing teams and making money and they get huge egos and create very sexist cultures."
In defense of recruitment firms, the (male) head of another leading financial services recruiter in the City says he fired a consultant for harassing his young female staff last year: "We had someone who was being very predatory with our younger women, taking them to strip clubs and just being generally unacceptable." However, he too agrees that harassment is endemic in financial services recruitment: "I know of two senior people with a reputation for this and both have been in the industry for a long time and their behaviour has had no consequence."
Recruiters are more likely to harass recruiters rather than other candidates. The senior female recruiter we spoke to said the best way to avoid it is to bypass the Thursday night drinking session, to have zero tolerance for any unwanted advances, and to be a big biller: "These men can't handle it when you bring in more than they do."
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