The bank where I spent the bulk of my career had team offsites once per year. They would load us all into big buses and drive us out of the city to a luxury hotel, where there would be team-building exercises and speeches about how great the bank was and how smart we were and how we were all going to be so successful. In the evenings, there would be too much alcohol and usually something embarrassing like karaoke. The guy who was the best at karaoke was from the Tokyo office and didn’t drink at all. Pretty amazing really.
On one of these instances, the night that we arrived, we had a drinks reception that was pleasant enough. The hotel was gorgeous – beautiful rooms and a golf course where presidents and prime ministers played. I had a glass of wine and chatted with my colleagues. Still early in the night, the global managing director for the entire team lined up tequila shots on the bar and ordered everyone to drink them. We complied because he was in charge. Then he ordered another round. Ugh…one tequila shot I could just barely manage and not barf, but I was not getting roped into some kind of drinking game. I made myself scarce and tried to slip away to my room, but my direct boss saw me and gestured for me to stay.
We sat on the other side of the bar from the tequila game, with a few others who had escaped. The boss ordered champagne, and I sipped a glass very slowly, making polite conversation. He had been drinking a lot and sat too close to me and showered me with compliments. This was the very guy who had rescued me from another colleague at the Christmas party. Married with children and at least 15 years my senior. I tried to deflect, to change the subject, ask about his children. This man decided my compensation – or lack of – I couldn’t just tell him off. But nothing worked – he kept talking and playfully blocked my way when I tried to leave. Then he asked me to have a drink in his room. I tried to play it cool and laughed “Now I know you’ve had too much to drink.” I said no thanks, and said good night, but he followed me when I got up. Someone else asked him a question, and I jumped into the elevator and hit the close button as quickly as I ever had.
I heard him calling for me to wait as the doors closed. I let out a sigh of relief. I got off on my floor and as I walked down the hall, I heard the other elevator bell ding and his voice calling out for me.
“Come on,” he slurred, “Let’s have a drink in your room.”
“No thanks – I’m tired, why don’t you go back to the party?”
He started walking faster to catch up with me and I walked a little faster to stay ahead of him. We were alone in the hallway. My heart was pounding and my instincts were blaring. I broke into a run. My room was around the corner. I had my key card in my hand and managed to get into my room before he came around the corner.
I sat there in the dark, holding my breath. I heard him shouting my name down the hallway. I sat on the edge of the bed for awhile, listening to him calling for me up and down the hallway. Then – silence – he must have given up. Just in case, I got up and went into the bathroom. I grabbed a towel and put it under the door before I turned on a lamp. I was shaking. I picked up a book and tried to read to calm myself, but I didn’t sleep well that night.
The next day, there were roundtable discussions and a scavenger hunt. I wondered how much he would remember, but he never said a word. He acted as though nothing unusual happened at all, and laughed and told jokes. Maybe he really had been very drunk and remembered nothing. I tried to be friendly, because he was my boss, but not so friendly as to encourage him – it was a tricky balancing act. But from that point on, I made it a point never to be alone with him anywhere. When it was time for me to leave a dinner or drinks event, or other offsite events, I always slipped away without telling him I was leaving. Once, he nearly caught me leaving, and I hid behind a large potted tree and silently laughed at how ridiculous the whole situation was. But I was only laughing because I was in the lobby of the hotel and not an empty hallway alone with him.
The thing is that this sort of thing happened all the time. Not just to me – I know other female bankers who were offered up to male clients as though the bank were a pimp. There was always an accidental hand brushing against a female employee’s chest or bottom – and that hand always belonged to a senior male. I never had any of my female colleagues accidentally touch me. And never anyone at my level – always someone senior to me, who had power and influence if not direct control over my professional life. Among my friends, nearly every woman has had some experience of this – in banking, consulting, and the corporate world.
Now the #metoo movement has brought this issue to the spotlight where it belongs, and there are very real things happening – people are finally seeing consequences and repercussions. Interestingly, we are still waiting for the movement to hit the world of finance. Some say it won’t, due to the culture, the arbitration, the non-disclosure agreements.
An older retired man in my building asked me the other day, “Say, all this stuff in the news about you know…inappropriate behavior…?” “Yes, you mean sexual harassment?” “Yes, well I was just wondering – did you ever have any experience like that, you know when you were working in the bank?” I stared for a moment trying to ascertain whether he was making a joke and realized he was serious. “Yes. Yes I did, all the time.” He looked horrified, “I just wanted to know whether this kind of thing really happens, or if it’s just being blown out of proportion.”
No. It’s not being blown out of proportion. If you ask me, it needs to be a lot bigger. #metoo