Stop insurance companies being able to sweep sexual harassment under the carpet

By Sarah Mortimer on

Here we go again. Harvey Weinstein originally put the spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace, which generated a wave of acknowledgement, investigation and discussion on this thorny topic.

Even a year ago, the Financial Times would never have reported on something like the antics at the annual Presidents Club charity dinner, where hostesses were made to wear skimpy dresses and black underwear, and there were allegations that some were groped and harassed by members of the male-only invitees. If you haven’t yet looked at the original report from the FT, click here, and scroll down to read the comments, which are more revealing about the mindset of some well-heeled businessmen than the piece itself.

The Presidents Club FT exposé 

The FT’s exposé has resulted in widespread condemnation of the event. The shocking behaviour was not surprising for most women who work in any male-dominated industry. Indeed, rein4ce’s CEO, Mairi Mallon recently wrote about this in a blog entitled ‘Sexism in the City’.

As Mairi said in her blog, even though there is sexism in the insurance industry, the vast majority of men working in our market are good and honourable, and would have been appalled to witness that behaviour.  For me and my female colleagues, we were not surprised at all by the FT’s report. However, this particular incident has angered many of the insurance men we work with. What is it about the Presidents Club scenario that has made them see red? Any opinions are welcome.   

One the most interesting developments to come from this story is the fact that the UK government felt they had to act. Downing Street said it will review how non-disclosure agreements are used following the revelations that the hostesses at the Presidents Club were asked to sign agreements preventing them from exposing what went on.

 

UK government response

In her interview with Bloomberg, UK Prime Minister Theresa May talked about how there is “still a lot more work” to do to address the “objectification of women”. However, if the government wants to properly address the issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace, it needs to look beyond gagging orders. It also needs to examine the use of compromise agreements, which allow companies to pay victims of discrimination or harassment a financial settlement in return for keeping schtum. In effective, businesses have been able to brush issues of bad behaviour and sexual harassment under the carpet – with a legally binding agreement that cannot be broken.   

Compromise agreements

For too long, companies have enabled powerful men to stay in their posts and silence victims with confidentiality agreements and compromise settlements. The Harvey Weinstein scandal has highlighted how such agreements have been repeatedly used and abused to protect the reputation of sleazy and unethical men by keeping victims quiet. 

In the insurance industry, there have been numerous stories over the years of senior executives or employees responsible for revenue generation, have been protected by these agreements. Of course, there is a place for confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, as well as settlements. All play a legitimate and appropriate role in business, but they should never be used to cover up bad or unethical behaviour. 

Catrin Shi, the News Editor at the Insurance Insider pledged that her publication would publish any stories of misconduct, regardless of the consequences, stating it to be their “moral duty”.  It was a bold statement, which was publicly backed by magazine’s Managing Director, Mark Geoghegan, who challenged senior executives in the industry to “wake up and act”.   

What has been considered acceptable behaviour is now changing. Nothing can be done about the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace until a culture of speaking out is encouraged and supported.

I can’t believe I had to say that in 2018.

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