Serious reflection

Serious reflection

As I clicked on the link to Gavin Finch’s explosive piece for Bloomberg Businessweek painting Lloyd’s of London as an Old Boy’s Club of the worst kind, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread.

The headline was anything but subtle: “The Old Daytime-Drinking, Sexual-Harassing Ways Are Thriving at Lloyd’s.”

If you’ve read it, you know that Finch’s story did not fall short of its dreadful promise. Citing multiple sources (18 women in all), the Bloomberg feature paints a picture of the market as an environment in which sexual advances and degradation are the norm. Early on, Fitch sets the tone by citing the case of one “insurance insider” who claims she was attacked by a drunken senior manager in a pub right around the corner from Lloyd’s – and that her employer convinced her it would be “bad for her career” to pursue a complaint.

Most of the women who spoke for the story (whom Finch says are employed by or worked for such companies as Aspen Insurance Holdings, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Marsh & McLennan, Munich Re and others) did so anonymously to protect their identities. Many of them said pursuing their abusers in the UK’s courts wasn’t an option, given the costs involved and potential damage to their reputation within the industry.

Young women at Lloyd’s “are just cannon fodder,” one female broker says. “Unless you have a rich father, you aren’t going to be able to afford suing. You’re also going to f---ing destroy your reputation, and you basically have to decide that you will never work in the industry again.”

It’s not my place to say whether Lloyd’s is guilty of what Bloomberg charges it with, but here’s the thing about sexual harassment: It does, in fact, happen, at a variety of organisations. To deny that fact – and it is a fact – is to give power to abusers. In the re/insurance industry and elsewhere, that is simply not an option.

Here’s the other thing about sexual harassment: When it happens, and someone comes forward, as a manager you have to employ some serious moral judgement. Often, that involves working directly with both the person impacted and the human resources department. It also involves some hard decisions about who you may end up crossing in the process.

Such decisions are difficult for a reason: they usually involve a bully, and bullies are the worst brand of coward. They’ll deny an incident took place to cover themselves, or, in many cases, shift blame to the person making the claim. Neither action is acceptable. Ever.

The “Me Too” movement has ignited a deadly serious conversation about how women are treated in the workplace. Some of the things I’ve read in the past year alone have truly shocked me. And let me tell you, I am not the type of person who shocks easily.

Any conversation that begins with a woman making a claim that she was sexually harassed has to be considered with the highest level of gravity. You simply can’t assume that such a person has “an agenda” or is “too sensitive” or some other dismissive excuse. We’re way beyond that now. The “old boys” mentality that pervades so many organisations across so many industries is changing – partly because of the increased attention brought to how vile it can be, and partly because those “old boys” are ageing out of the workplace.

As for Lloyd’s, within five days of Bloomberg’s story the market responded by announcing a plan of action to promote a safe and inclusive working environment. It includes provision of an independently managed, confidential and market-wide access point for reporting inappropriate behaviour (a good start); possible banning of those found guilty of inappropriate behaviour (forgive me for believing that will never happen, as the temptation will be great to sweep such cases under the rug); an independent and market-wide culture survey to identify the scale and scope of the issue (the results of which Reactions will follow up on); and other promised measures.

“It has been distressing to hear about the experiences of women in the Lloyd’s market. No one should be subjected to this sort of behaviour, and if it does happen, everyone has the right to be heard and for those responsible to be held to account,” Lloyd’s CEO John Neal said in a statement.

I don’t doubt Neal’s sincerity, but here’s hoping that at Lloyd’s In London and elsewhere, the matter of sexual harassment will be approached with the appropriate level of sobriety. It’s well past time.

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