Women in the City - Treasury Contents

4  The Working Environment

44. As we outlined in the introduction, there are a range of legal measures intended to ensure that women in work are treated equally, and to prevent both direct and indirect discrimination. Nichola Pease suggested a lack of women at the top might indicate female preference rather than direct discrimination.[83] However, we note that some of the constraints that Ms Pease pointed out, such as the lack of flexibility and long hours working at the top, are only legal if there is objective justification for them. While some witnesses considered there was indeed good reason for the relative inflexibility some City posts, notably senior ones, offered, others considered that many of the barriers to female advancement were unjustified.

Flexible working


45. It is no secret that there is a long hours culture in the City. Sarah Rutherford described this culture as a relatively new phenomenon that was a product of deregulation and global trading.[84] Global markets mean work needs to be done across different time zones. Ms Pease remarked upon the current situation:

    Certain jobs require full time. They require a lot of travel. They require unsociable conference calls etc to cope with global time change. Those are the commercial realities […][85]

46. The EHRC inquiry discovered that career progression in the City was strongly improved by willingness to undertake unpaid overtime and 'presenteeism'. The Commission noted that working long hours was challenging for all employees, but notably for those with caring responsibilities.[86] ACCA described the widely-held view that married women or women with children cannot work at senior level because they may be less prepared to make the required sacrifices.[87]

47. Dr Altmann felt that the emphasis on being available 24 hours a day was unnecessary, at least on the asset management side of the City, where a team working effectively could cover the workload. She referred to the idea that only one staff member can do the work as the "star mentality" and advised that the City should move away from this view.[88] Karon Monaghan QC described cases which have:

    [...] established that such is the disadvantage caused to women by requirements to work full time, that robust enquiry will be made of an employer who asserts that in his industry or trade, full time work is essential and justified […] It had been assumed, for example, that the judiciary was quintessentially a profession which required full time office holders. This has proved not to be so.[89]

48. Flexible working is not, in fact, solely a women's issue. Many employees would like the opportunity to work flexibly, often, though not exclusively, to allow for caring responsibilities. The CMI found that over half of both men and women supported extending the right to request flexible working.[90] They identified the main driver of introducing flexible working was employees demanding an improved work-life balance.[91] They, like many other organisations, were keen to stress that the issue of flexibility was not specific to women. [92]

49. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, told us that the best way to attract women was by offering good flexible working, but stressed that this improved the environment for all employees. He believed that better management was needed to improve the situation in financial institutions, but those companies should make the changes of their own accord.[93]

50. There was strong support for reform of flexible working in the City.[94] The Unite union called for the sector to work harder to increase flexible working for senior and managerial levels where requests "are often refused on business grounds".[95] Sandra Curtis, who has had over 30 years experience in the City, challenged City firms to be more creative:

    I think it is disappointing that banks have not been more imaginative at implementing flexible working. There must be ways they can do it. If they applied some of the imagination given to financial instruments to flexible working, we would see a lot more of it.[96]

51. At first glance, it appears that the City firms are open to flexible working. All the banks which submitted evidence to this inquiry offered flexible working policies. Over 90% of the City firms surveyed by the EHRC reported that they had flexible working policies in place.[97] The CMI results for the banking/finance sector in terms of provision of three major flexible working policies showed that the sector is close to the national average.

Table 3: Chartered Management Institute findings of availability of flexible working options

Flexible working hours in operation %
Job sharing in operation

Home working

National 55.851.4 78.8
Public sector/charities 92.38.3 90.9
Consultants/business services 65.046.2 85.0
Banking/Finance 56.645.3 73.9
IT services/Hi-tech 54.060 88.8
Distribution/Retail 52.647.4 72.2
Manufacturing 50.948.1 70.8

Source: CMI National Management Survey 2009

52. It appears that the problem lies not in the existence of flexible working policies, but with getting permission to use the available policies, especially at senior levels. Sapphire Partners noted that:

    […] while virtually every City firm has adequate policies for supporting flexible working and diversity, the disconnect is in the take-up and implementation.[98]

Ms Pease told us that she moved from a "mainstream, big company" precisely to be able to work more flexibly,[99] highlighting that in these organisations senior staff cannot easily make use of flexible working policies. An EHRC survey found that only 2% of employees actually requested flexible working.[100] One respondent to the EHRC inquiry summarised the situation that appears to exist in much of the City:

    There was absolutely no flexibility on the firm's part to even try to fit in my flexible working request as I was told it was really only for secretaries and not for lawyers or professional people […] all the policies on paper were not really put in practice at all but to comply with laws and for appearances sake.[101]

We were told that HR departments were reluctant to provide information on who can access various flexible working policies. One women with City experience suggested that firms should publish the take up rates of their flexible working policies and be up front about who is permitted to use them.[102]

53. Men as well as women consider that a request to work flexibly could damage their career. An EHRC report investigating flexible working arrangements for fathers found that 36% of fathers believed that asking for flexible working would mark them as not committed to their job. 44% of fathers thought their chances of promotion would be adversely affected if they requested flexible working.[103] The report was not specific to the financial services sector but it illustrated a general problem that asking for flexible working is perceived to have negative career effects. The EHRC received submissions to its Financial Services Inquiry from unions claiming that there had been recent increases in the number of employment tribunals as a result of flexible working requests. They were equally worried about evidence that linked requests for flexible working to subsequent selection for redundancy.[104]

54. There is an obvious conflict between a long hours culture and flexible working. Sometimes long hours may be unavoidable, but we are disappointed that many City firms do not appear to have been successful in introducing flexible working policies for senior staff, both male and female.

Parental leave

55. The EHRC found a perception that there is a maternity penalty in the City on "earnings, career progression and susceptibility to redundancy".[105] It is clear that parental leave imposes a cost to employers, and the cost is greater for females because maternity leave is significantly more generous than the equivalent for fathers. Evidence submitted on behalf of a group of anonymous female City workers explained that they understood the concern of employers deciding whether to hire or promote women of child bearing age because of their possible departure for maternity leave.[106] It is also true that primary child carers frequently do not return to work full time. In a 2008 survey of Unite members, over 60% of those who had taken maternity leave returned to work on a part-time basis.[107] Ms Pease was concerned that legislation on matters such as maternity leave was turning women into a "nightmare" for employers, and was an incentive for employers to avoid hiring women.[108] When asked how to remove blockages for women she replied, "I think we have too long a maternity leave, I think a year is too long, and sex discrimination cases that run into the tens of millions are ridiculous." However we received evidence that some of the most successful financial services companies, including Barclaycard and Nationwide, have very positive employment and retention packages for women, including flexible working and maternity leave."[109] Discrimination against women on the grounds that they may require maternity leave, or may not return to work full time after their leave has ended, is illegal and there are legal remedies for obvious cases of discrimination. Such protection is long established, and employers should pay heed to it. However, it would be naive to think that it is easy to prove discrimination on these grounds, and that the existence of protective legislation alone will prevent discrimination. Indeed, some argued that such legislation encourages employers to avoid hiring women.

56. The current legal framework for maternity and paternity leave may reflect cultural norms, but it also reinforces them, even when individuals might prefer more flexibility. Ms Melanie Dawes, who has worked as an accountant in a major firm, explained that social norms meant it was unusual for young fathers to work part time.[110] Dr Sarah Rutherford considered that:

    Women with children do not have the same resource of time as men do and men's time is very often made more available by women taking on their share of domestic responsibilities.[111]

The EHRC's Financial Services Inquiry report referred to its recommendation of gender neutral parental leave which would help men and women share family responsibilities more equally.[112] The group of anonymous female City workers also suggested this.[113] On 28 January 2010 the Government announced that it would introduce legislation to permit fathers to take advantage of additional paternity leave and pay during the second six months of the child's life, if the mother wished to return to work with maternity leave outstanding.[114] The Official Opposition has also committed itself to more flexible paternal leave arrangements.[115]

57. While some maternity leave will always be needed, we welcome the proposals to allow more flexibility in the use of parental leave by both men and women. This would allow couples to choose how to arrange their childcare responsibilities as they see fit. It would also lessen the incentives for companies to try to evade the law.


58. There are legal remedies against discrimination. Although in 2008-09 only 3 per cent of sex discrimination cases were won at tribunal, very few cases proceed to a hearing. The latest figures show that 42 per cent of cases in 2008-09 were withdrawn. Some of these will be because the parties have reached a settlement, which will often be confidential. 34 per cent were conciliated by ACAS. Again, the terms of such conciliation could be confidential.[116] In some cases settlement will be a tacit acceptance of liability by the company concerned, but that will not always be the case. Anonymity is important, but it would be helpful to have more information about the type of complaint made, and the type of settlement reached, broken down by sector. That would help identify whether particular grounds for complaint appear particularly frequently, and reveal whether particular sectors gave rise to a disproportionate number of cases.

59. There is little information about the effectiveness of legal remedies. We understand the constraints of confidentiality, and we also understand the limitations of official statistics, but we recommend that the EHRC and the Tribunals Service consider whether there is a way in which official statistics could give more information about the nature and outcomes of sex discrimination cases brought.

83   Q 61 Back

84   Ev 74 Back

85   Q 83 Back

86   Ev 68 Back

87   Ev 36 Back

88   Q 84 Back

89   Ev 89 Back

90   Ev 55 Back

91   Ev 55 Back

92   Ev 65 Back

93   Oral evidence taken before the Treasury Committee on 24 November 2009, HC (2009-10) 34-i, Qq 69-71 Back

94   Ev 66, 76 Back

95   Ev 46 Back

96   Q 84  Back

97   Ev 69 Back

98   Ev 62 Back

99   Q 83 Back

100   Ev 69 Back

101   Ev 69 Back

102   Ev 39 Back

103   Equality and Human Rights Commission, Working Better: fathers, families and work- contemporary perspectives, Research Summary 41, October 2009, p 10 Back

104   Ev 69 Back

105   Financial Services Inquiry, p 56 Back

106   Ev 76 Back

107   Ev 46 Back

108   Q 79  Back

109   Q 80 Back

110   Ev 39 Back

111   Ev 74 Back

112   Financial Services Inquiry, p 19 Back

113   Ev 76 Back

114   http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/detail.aspx?NewsAreaId=2&ReleaseID=410677&SubjectId=2 Back

115   http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/01/Too_little_too_late_on_paternity_leave.aspx Back

116   http://www.employmenttribunals.gov.uk/Documents/Publications/ET_EAT_Stats_0809_FINAL.pdf Back

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