Life’s not fair

I read an article in The Times this morning about the payout that Eva Carneiro got from Chelsea FC. She got about £5 million to settle her claim of gender discrimination, unfair dismissal etc. before the tribunal started. The journalist writes “In the case of a suit settled out of court, with a huge sum paid to the woman and a gagging order, rather than anyone thinking “jiggle my boobs instead”, how about they think “Blimey, it must be really bad if they want to keep it quiet that much”.

In Monday’s Times 2, we had a fluff piece about a self-published novel called Playing FTSE by Victoria Pease, which apparently covers all sorts of City high jinks (like rape) in a “light-hearted” manner. She states that having one baby after another “on maternity leave” is “abusing the system”. I had always thought it was called the survival of the human race, but since I work full-time with two kids, maybe I’m also somehow abusing the system by providing for them. She goes on to say, “I bet you there are some lawsuits that are pretty much fabricated. I do believe that some women think: ‘Well, it’s my last job and I need some money and I’ll come up with something’”.

I’m not sure which situation I find more ludicrous.  The author’s only claim to any sort of verisimilitude is a year spent in equity research when she was 24 – before she married a scion of the Barclays dynasty. She can hardly have been particularly senior, and claims that she was part of a huge round of layoffs in the credit crunch, which doesn’t quite add up given she is now in her early 40s. Nothing she says of the City I know rings true, but then I’m not stupid enough to go and work on the sell-side. That is where the monsters of the deep sea tend to congregate.

The whole idea of an employment tribunal based on sex discrimination is anathema to me.  I have absolutely no doubt that everything they allege is entirely true, and it goes without saying that all of the alleged behaviour is pathetic, childish, demeaning and offensive. It’s just that by holding their hands out, these women are actually lending validity to the behaviour they deplore, because they’re asking for money. That’s the whole reason everyone works in the City, and asking for money is part of the masculine behaviour pattern that has apparently so upset them.

Journalists tend to wrap the search for the cause of harassment and discrimination around some argument about feminism and women’s changing roles in society, but my theory is that the way each of the sexes behaves in large groups has remained unchanged for millennia, and causes a rather toxic set of misunderstandings. Men in groups become stampeding herds of homogeneity, all desperate to be in the fold, not to rock the boat, and to create that hugely rewarding camaraderie of shared experience and values. Those thousands of football fans, all dressed the same and singing the same songs. The Barmy Army travels with their very own trumpeter, and they stand around in every corner of the world, chatting to some bloke from Bangor about Geraint Evans. At work, they might be hugely competitive for clients and bonuses, but they all want to get on in the pub; they don’t want to stand out. They create a broader society. Women on the other hand want to create values around a small number of people who are important to them. Obviously I’m generalising hugely (as is any argument featuring the words “men” and “women”), but I’ve certainly observed it in myself and others – the desire to create your own values, to construct allegiances slowly and on an individual basis; the desire to stand out for all the things that you believe in. I think that women are more individualistic in a group setting. They generally don’t start kicking a football around, or jumping in the pool or any of the other “wehey” things that blokes do. They stand around getting to know another person they like the look of, asking them about themselves. In the context of an industry where the working hours make it unappealing to women with children, the fact they’re almost always a minority makes the difference in approach a potential problem. I would never consider myself to have experienced discrimination, but I suppose it depends on your definition. I was so sleep deprived I once got a percentage wrong in an anecdote (you had to be there), and it became a running joke which was pursued quite viciously by my manager. The other guys in the team seemed uncomfortable with the level of vitriol about a trivial mistake, but they laughed along anyway, and threw in their own criticisms. I was obviously good-humoured about it, even though it pissed me off; that’s just how it works. I would say that blokes wouldn’t get the same treatment, but in fact blokes are so scared of losing face, they’d never have opened their mouths in the first place if they were tired enough to get it wrong.

On the other hand, there was the time that I found a bunch of Inteflora red roses at my desk. I then got anonymous creepy emails saying “I can see your screen”, how I was a “nice girl underneath”, and how he hoped I had “worked up a sweat” at the weekend. Ironically, my male boss was absolutely outraged and disgusted, and said I should call the police, while the HR girl said I should be flattered. This was when I was working for a household name bank in Canary Wharf.

I think my view on it is conflicting; life’s full of injustice, and since not all of it has a multi-billion pound blue chip behind it, what they’re actually doing is exploiting big business, if that’s even possible. They do “deserve” the awards they get, because a lot of the time the psychological effect of years of harassment will render them unfit to ever work in the City again, so they are asking for compensation for a ruined career. They’re entitled to it in the same way that a man should be in the same situation, and in the same way that people get payouts for accidents caused by an employer. Sometimes, it’s a psychological accident; sometimes, it’s revenge, and Carneiro sure was in a position to get it.

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