MPs on the cross-party Treasury committee have been “shocked and alarmed” to hear about the scale of bullying and sexual harassment against women in the City of London, which suggests there has been “no improvement whatsoever” over the past 20 years.
The Labour MP and committee member Angela Eagle said private hearings held as part of the committee’s sexism in the City inquiry had raised significant concerns about the conditions women were forced to endure in the UK’s financial services sector.
Women who spoke up often lost their careers, while the perpetrator “might be moved on to another department or another firm and there is no way of preventing that trail of destructive behaviour carrying on”, Eagle said.
“We’re talking about sexual assault here, sexual harassment, and bullying that comes after that,” she said during questioning of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) bosses on Tuesday.
Much of the evidence gathered by the committee had been done behind closed doors, in order to “protect those women in firms across the entirety of the financial services sector from the consequences of them being open with us about the behaviour they face at work”, the Labour MP said.
“And I think it’s fair to say that those of us who sat in on those roundtables were shocked and alarmed at the evidence that we took … It’s clear from the evidence we’ve taken that there has been no improvement whatsoever in the barrage of problems that female workers in the City face at work in the last 20 years … it’s just as bad and some of it is truly alarming.”
The FCA chief executive, Nikhil Rathi, said the regulator was concerned about the reports and wanted “to ensure that UK financial services are a safe place for women to work in”.
He added: “And we have been clear that we consider non-financial misconduct to be relevant to the assessment of fitness and propriety and our judgments around the governance and culture of firms.”
While Rathi said the FCA was “probably the most proactive conduct regulator in terms of major jurisdictions”, he recognised existing protections may not be sufficient.
However, he said the regulator had forwarded proposals to clarify its criteria of non-financial misconduct, which should provide “tighter guidance” for firms, that would eventually be tested in the courts.
The problems are likely to be raised again on Wednesday when Aviva’s first female chief executive, Amanda Blanc, is due to give evidence to the inquiry.
The Treasury committee’s inquiry follows accusations of sexual misconduct against the multimillionaire Brexit donor and City boss Crispin Odey, resulting in the winding up of his £3.5bn hedge fund. Odey has denied any wrongdoing.
Rathi confirmed on Tuesday that, while the investigation into Odey Asset Management had been closed, the investigation into Odey himself “remains live”.