Looking within Our Industry: #metoo

Silhouettes of business women walking in office

Ensuring that our colleagues are safe, respected, and valued is an issue that’s immeasurably important to us. We’re honored that Roberta has shared her thoughts on our blog and proud to lend a platform to her voice. Citisoft has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and we hope that this post contributes to the important effort to illuminate and eradicate abuse in our industry.

It is extraordinary to me to see the systematic dismantling of the wall of silence around the issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. The shocking stories of how men with power have not just demeaned but often criminally assaulted women (and sometimes men) are exploding our psyches. It seems every week there is another well-respected man in the public eye who is being exposed for an apparent history of repeated abuse. At the same time, are we really that surprised? Weren’t there always whispers? And haven’t most women experienced some form of harassment or worse in the workplace? Although Citisoft has an effective zero-tolerance policy for harassment, I’ve seen abuse throughout our industry and know that most of my female colleagues have as well.

The “casting couch” in Hollywood has never been denied and is often referred to jokingly as if a rite of passage for women trying to make it in the entertainment business. For many years in the corporate world, the idea that a randy boss might “chase a woman around the desk” was not a tale. It was a real and scary fact of life for many working women whose only defense was to stay away if possible and to get the word out to other women. Work environments where sexual innuendo, graphic jokes, and uncomfortable contact are widespread are not as unusual as one might think. There are countless stories where harassment is commonplace: restaurants, small local businesses, and retail stores, to name a few. It has been put up with because people need to work to support themselves or their families, and they feel they have no choice but to accept and shrug these behaviors off as complaints often land on deaf ears.

Few industries are immune to this bad behavior. The investment business has its own folklore, whether it is the BSDs made famous in Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker or the pleasant and polished portfolio manager who drinks too much at an after-hour event and makes inappropriate verbal or physical advances to unwitting young women. When complaints are lodged, victims are told not to put themselves in those situations and are assured the offender will be talked to. If the offender is a “rainmaker” you could count on nothing of substance happening and the behavior being overlooked.

In my 30 years in investment business, I have seen firms develop and roll out diversity training programs which included race relations, LGBT awareness, and men working with women. When it came to sexual harassment, no-tolerance mandates were implemented and hot lines for reporting of such aggressions were installed. However, changes to corporate cultures that have been complicit with sexual harassers is not achieved by dictum and a personnel handbook, but rather must be driven by leadership and behavioral changes in the executive levels, where some would argue more women should be. How successful are these programs? Certainly not foolproof, just ask a prestigious Boston firm that as recently as last fall fired two executives for harassment behavior. 

But now the floodgates have opened, brave women have come forward to share the pain of their experiences and to raise the specter of these physical and emotional assaults. The power of many is bubbling up and this may be the transcendent moment. The lesson one hopes for is that victims will be heard and they will no longer be afraid to speak out. More importantly however, we must ask ourselves: will would-be perpetrators learn that abuse is unacceptable and that mutual respect and honor are universal rights in the workplace?

Only time will tell.