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  • Diane Valat

The Predatory Wolf of Wall Street

Unveiling Toxic Masculinity & Sexual Harassment in the Financial Industry

We have all watched Leonardo DiCaprio picturing the decadent stereotypical environment of working within the financial industry ravaged with sex, drugs and money as the steppingstone to climb the ladder to success and power.


Despite the cinematographic stereotypes, the truth is that the financial industry is still male-dominated faced with gender discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in this brotopia culture.


We might think that with the #MeToo movement, more people would have been encouraged to speak up about the discriminatory practices, sexual harassment and toxic environment faced by workers, especially women and the LGBTQ+ community. However, the truth remains as such: the silent treatment still overrules on Wall Street.


Silence over Safety

In our previous articles about the tech industry and blue collar employment, women who wish to work in certain industries where they are underrepresented still suffer from the fact that these are male-dominated fields. There is constant pressure to break the glass ceiling and fit into the boys’ club or stay silent when facing or noticing potential discriminatory practices or harassment to avoid retaliation and being the black sheep, taking a substantial toll on their professional career.


https://qz.com/1078602/why-the-new-york-stock-exchange-nyse-still-has-human-brokers-on-the-trading-floor/
The Male-Dominated NYSE

A study from the European Commission and the Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations have shown that women are actually more likely to experience sexual harassment within male-dominated industries and experience greater bias in favour of men, even if they are equally or more qualified than a man for this position.


This sort of daily harassment ranging from belittling comments to sexual propositions have been enshrined in a culture of misogyny that has been in place since the 1980s. The social construct of what a financial analyst and trader looks like has been internalised following the idea of a Spartan image: a strong, aggressive, sexually potent man who cannot show any sign of empathy or feminine characteristic that would make them appear weak.


When looking at different testimonies from women who went through cases of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the financial industry, it is noticeable that it has been pictured as being well-known for protecting perpetrators, especially high-performing ones, despite being aware of the harassment. Instead, the norm is to pay large sums of money to settle the case in private.


The Male Detriment

But it is not only women who are affected by this type of toxic masculinity and are often forced to internalise such behaviour. Toxic masculinity is also detrimental to men. This toxic environment of forbidding empathy and emotions and expecting aggression and strength can play a substantial negative impact on men’s individual identity and character, as they can be excluded from the group if they do not match with the image of what a “real man” is.


These archetypes of what behaviours “real men” should have can lead to extremes in which hyper aggression, hyper violence and sexual objectification becomes a standard. According to studies conducted by Professor Matthew Green from the College DuPage, the higher the rank in a company, the more illusionary power they claim to possess over weaker men and women. This illusion can then, in turn, escalate to pronounced violence, sexism, marginalisation and bullying of those men who do not fit certain standards.


https://www.ft.com/content/4b67b618-deb4-11e9-b112-9624ec9edc59
The Predatory Wolf of Wallstreet

To this extent, those wishing to avoid being excluded from the main group and be part of this boys’ club facilitate the continuation of the rule of silence on inappropriate behaviours to avoid appearing weak or a “rat”.


However, this continued silence ends up only perpetuating a cycle of harassment in the industry. In the end, retaliation is faced by the target, rather than the perpetrator, which just shows that no condemnation of such behaviour will occur, and thus indirectly internalise it as a normality.


And when it comes to reporting, as we have shown in previous articles, people are more likely to resign than to report a case of sexual harassment, due to potential retaliation or exclusion from the group. Or if they do decide to come forward, most cases end up being ignored.


In a survey conducted by Investments News, two thirds of the women who said they faced sexual harassment in the Financial field did not make a complaint about the harassment and 40% of women said that a personal experience linked to sexual harassment has played a substantial role in their career decision to leave the company or become independent.


This culture of harassment has been highlighted by the #MeToo movement, which inspired many women to help each other face their perpetrators together and empowering themselves to speak up and come forward to stand up for themselves and for what is right: denounce discriminatory practices, sexual harassment and criminal behaviour.


Moving Forward

The first step to solving the issue of toxic masculinity is to raise awareness about the problem and understand the negative consequences that it brings not only at the individual level but also at the company level. For example, the “Best Man Can Be” campaign developed by Gillette is a great initiative addressing men's accountability, confronting them on other men’s inappropriate behaviour and raising awareness about the downsides of the traditional mentality of “boys will be boys”.


It shows how men can become allies in the fight against gender discrimination and sexual harassment as well as the necessity to change the perception on empathy and showing emotions as something strong rather than weak.


Through such initiatives promoting discussions against toxic masculinity and sexual harassment, the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #BestManCanBe movements allow people to become more aware of this culture of brotopia and its downsides. This allows future generations of men and women to be raised with heightened sensitivity about the matter and be more supportive of speaking out against such unethical practices.

Written By: Diane Valat, Research Ambassador at Metta Space


Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space