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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Sexism in the City
Harassment and sexual discrimination are alive and kicking in London's financial district. The Money Programme investigates the extent of the problem.

Beneath the glitz and the glamour of the City of London lies a dark secret. In this largely male preserve, women are still being humiliated, sexually harassed and discriminated against on a daily basis.

The figures speak for themselves - women still make up just 2% of senior positions in the top 100 companies. Yet while discrimination may be alive and well in the City, women are fighting back and an increasing number of claims are ending up at tribunals.

Huge compensation

A former nurse dismissed from the company she herself set up has just won 2.2m in an out of court settlement of her claim for alleged sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

In an exclusive interview recorded before the settlement was agreed, Kate Bleasdale reveals the tactics used to oust her from the business she formed 15 years ago and built up to the point where it was ready to float on the stock market. Her ambitions, however, were thwarted by male colleagues who claimed that potential City investors would not float the company with her at the helm.

As a young nurse, Kate Bleasdale had spotted a gap in the nursing recruitment market and decided to start her own company, Sinclair Montrose, later renamed the Match Group. With a loan of 10,000 she set up the business to retrain nurses and help them back into work. Sinclaire Montrose grew to become the second biggest in its market - but in 2001 Kate was forced was forced out by her board and Chairman.

Offensive emails

Her problems started when she discovered her male finance director earned more than she did. She then found herself on the receiving end of emails that she felt were sexist and offensive.

The final straw came at a showdown meeting on 1 November 1999 where her chairman, Sir Tim Chessels, told her in the presence of her colleagues that he would not float the company with her at the helm. Four months later she was dismissed. Kate began to pursue a claim for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Tip of the iceberg

Kate's claim, like many that reach an industrial tribunal, ended in an out of court settlement. But it is likely to encourage other women considering bringing similar claims against their employers. Research by the Money Programme found that Kate's story is far from unique.

"Cheryl", a currency dealer at one of the biggest trading companies in the City, received an anonymous email on the Bloomberg system from one of her colleagues asking: "Do you take it up the xxxx and can I watch?"

Enraged, she yelled out across the floor, asking which of her colleagues had sent the email. No one came forward and her boss tried to placate her, saying he would find out who had sent it - but nothing was ever done.

"Cheryl" was also made to feel on a night out with a very important client that she had to sleep with him in order to keep his business. The morning after in the office her boss persisted in asking several times whether she had succumbed to his advances. Cheryl was disgusted - and shortly afterwards left her job to start a family.

"Isabella", a government bond dealer, found herself caught up in horseplay that overstepped the mark. In a quiet moment after a hard day's dealing she flicked a small plastic novelty toy across the desk and it landed at a colleague's feet. He was a very well built man - when she walked over to retrieve the toy he hoisted her over his shoulder in a fireman's lift.

Isabella had her period and as the skirt slipped up she suffered the humiliation of having her rear end exposed to the whole trading floor. After what seemed an age he put her down and she fled to compose herself in a quiet corner.

Closing ranks

A phone call from her boss the following day warned her that if she was thinking of complaining, he had 20 men standing by who would testify that she "asked for it". She found the threat marked the beginning of the end of her working relationship with the team. She was forced to leave and now runs a designer fashion outfit in Bond Street.

The law was changed 30 years ago to prevent women from being discriminated against. But even so there is still a 20% gap between the pay levels of men and women doing the same job. Most of the senior women the Money Programme has spoken to have broken through the glass ceiling. But they still believe it will take two or three generations to change this culture.

This programme was first transmitted on Wednesday 20th November 2002.

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