'Reputation over wellbeing' | MPs accuse HR of 'protecting sexist bosses' in new report

MPs accuse HR of 'protecting sexist bosses' in new report

In a scathing report released Friday, Parliament's Treasury Committee accused HR departments of prioritising the reputation of businesses over the wellbeing of employees, particularly women facing sexism and harassment in the finance sector.

The report highlighted a concerning trend where women in finance felt intimidated to speak out against abuses in the workplace, fearing repercussions in what they perceive as a predominantly male-dominated environment.

MPs expressed alarm over the ‘growing power’ of HR departments, which they say are failing to adequately protect victims of abuse. According to the committee, victims of harassment often feel that HR teams are more focused on ‘safeguarding the firm's reputation’ rather than addressing their concerns.

The concerns raised coincide with the expansion of Britain's HR sector, with salaries in the industry reaching £25 billion, compared to £15 billion in 2017. Despite this growth, MPs argue that HR departments are not fulfilling their duty to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment.

The report comes amid high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct against prominent figures in finance, such as hedge fund chief Crispin Odey. Former employees have accused Odey of inappropriate behaviour, with allegations dating back to the early 2000s.

One former receptionist alleged that she reported incidents involving Odey to an HR executive but was met with dismissal. Odey has denied most accusations of sexual misconduct but admitted to one instance of inappropriate behaviour.

The Treasury committee has recommended several measures to tackle sexism in the City, including banning the use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases and providing stronger protections for whistle-blowers.

Additionally, MPs called for accusations of workplace abuse to be investigated independently of HR departments, reporting directly to the Board.

Harriet Baldwin, Chairman of the Committee, emphasised the need for action, stating, "There have been several high-profile cases which show the existential risk to firms who don’t tackle sexual misconduct."

In response to the report, advocates for gender equality have called for a ban on prospective employers asking job applicants for their salary history and suggested introducing a legal requirement to include salary bands in job adverts.

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Despite efforts to address gender inequality, the gender pay gap in the UK grew from 14.3% to 14.5% in 2022, surpassing the global average. Senior female executives, including Amanda Blanc, CEO of Aviva, provided evidence of facing sexism in their careers.

Blanc recounted facing sexist abuse at Aviva's annual general meeting and within the Welsh Rugby Union, where she served as chairman. In an effort to combat sexism, Blanc implemented measures at Aviva requiring final sign-off from her for all senior white male recruits.

As the issue of sexism in the workplace continues to garner attention, MPs have cautioned against regulatory measures that could burden companies with red tape, emphasising the need for targeted interventions to address systemic issues.

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