Efforts to tackle sexism in City moving at ‘snail’s pace’

A new report by MPs has uncovered a “shocking” prevalence of sexual harassment and bullying in London’s financial district.

The culture in the City is “holding women back” in their careers, the Treasury Committee said.

Among the problems identified were non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) being misused in the sector to cover up abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as inadequate whistleblowing procedures, with HR teams prioritising the reputation of the business over the wellbeing of employees.

The report, Sexism in the City, noted that there have been some improvements since 2018, for example a marginal increase in the representation of women in senior positions and a small reduction in the sector’s average gender pay gap. But it said that progress is still far too slow, and called for an end to the “era of impunity”.

Recommendations of the report include new legislation to ban the use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases. The Committee also called for a ban on prospective employers asking for salary history and a legal requirement to include salary bands on job advertisements, as both play a role in perpetuating a system where women are paid less than men. And it said that businesses with wide gender pay gaps must explain the disparity and publish an action plan.

“This well-paid sector will only be able to maintain its competitive advantage if it is able to draw on the widest possible pool of talent,” said Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Committee.

“That’s why it’s so frustrating that efforts to tackle sexism in the City are moving at a snail’s pace.

“Firms must take responsibility for improving their culture. There have been several high-profile cases which show the existential risk to firms who don’t tackle sexual misconduct. We also know that more diverse organisations perform better, so inaction is not only immoral but bad for growth and business.”

Baldwin added that regulators and the government also have a role to play, “but they need to think carefully about what will deliver the best outcomes and avoid introducing tick-box exercises”.