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Nigel Farage Proves That Sexism in the City Is Alive and Well

24/01/2014 13:59 GMT | Updated 25/03/2014 09:59 GMT

2014-01-23-PollyCourtneySexisminCity.jpg

This week, Nigel Farage came under fire for declaring that women in the City who have children are 'worth less' to employers than those who don't. "The reality for women in the City is that if they have children," he explained, "it has a very detrimental effect on their future pay cheques."

This, as things currently stand, is sadly true. When I worked in the City, it was commonly accepted that anyone who chose to take time off from a role that involved 'relationships' (equity sales trading, brokerage, etc.) would not be in the game for very long. The role was entirely dependent on continuity.

What Farage failed to acknowledge is that this is not OK. Asked whether it should be this way, he replied: "I can't change biology."

By this, he means: "I can't be bothered to challenge the status quo in which the default option is for long-term childcare to be undertaken by mothers, not fathers, and in which sexism is embedded in the fabric of the square mile."

Within weeks of joining the bank, I became aware of barriers to my progress that were simply not there for my male equivalents. Women weren't given a chance to prove themselves, men bonded in strip clubs, women were paid less than their male counterparts, sexist 'banter' ruled - and that was before I even noticed what was happening to the one other female executive in my department, who had just had a baby.

In an attempt to see her child before bed-time, she would leave the office at 7pm, to go home and work on her laptop after the baby had gone to sleep. In reality, I'm sure she worked harder and longer hours than most of her male equivalents, but every time the door swung shut behind her, the snide remarks would begin.

"Thanks for popping in," they'd sneer. "Part-timer."

The woman eventually left banking, sick of the inflexible practices and unaccommodating attitude towards her situation. She, like hundreds of others, dropped out - not because of the short 'career break' she took as maternity leave, but because she was tired of battling against sexist dinosaurs who didn't like to see their position challenged. When Farage states "I genuinely do not believe that there is discrimination in the City against women", it makes me want to scream.

Sexism is everywhere in the City.

It is not 'biology' that dictates who devotes themselves to the school run and swimming lessons and mealtime discussions and homework and bedtime; it is a societal norm that says: That's a mother's duty, because it follows on from all that early stuff with the breast-feeding and nappies and puke. Mum's career took a hit back then, so she might as well keep on compromising, to allow dad to maintain his spotless track-record at work.

Too often, it makes financial sense to choose this option. We weigh up the cost of taking time out of each parent's career, we factor in the cost of childcare as an alternative and we conclude that the most economical option is for mum to stop working. Oh, and this also makes sense, apparently, because mothers are apparently 'natural carers', whereas fathers aren't. (Ahem. Don't get me started on dolls for girls, diggers for boys.)

In some cases, Mr Farage, I'm afraid those calculations yield different results. Women who work in the City often earn more than their partners, especially if their partners are in less well-paid industries. A friend of mine is a 'high flying' trader whose husband is very much looking forward to being a house husband during the toddler years. They've done the sums, weighed up their preferences, and chosen not to conform to the norm.

When Nigel Farage explains why he sees a career break as a problem, he appears to miss the point about how long a 'break' needs to be.

"When I was an employer in the City, I would employ people in my brokerage company who I thought would bring in the maximum amount of commission business. Generally, people who bring in commission business are people who've worked very closely with clients over years and years and years. If you take time off, you tend to lose some of that business."

If managed well, a career in the City can easily weather a nine-month break. In fact, every time a City employee leaves one bank to join another, he (or she) is given 'gardening leave' in lieu of working their notice period. Breaks are common. What is not so common, unfortunately, is the idea of a woman giving birth, coming back to work and allowing the long-term child-care to be undertaken by the father.

It is possible. Helena Morrissey is a great example. The mother of nine (yes, nine) children, she is chief executive of Newton Investment Management and officially the Most Influential Woman in European Asset Management, with over £50bn assets under management. How? Well, much of the childcare is handled by dad, who doesn't work.

It's not an arrangement that works for everyone. The whole point is that there needs to be choice. Parents should be free to choose a lifestyle that works, without the stigma of dads at the school gates or mums in the boardroom.

We need change. But somehow, I don't think Nigel "I genuinely do not believe that there is discrimination in the City against women" Farage is the man to make it happen.

Polly Courtney is author of Golden Handcuffs - the Lowly Life of a High Flyer (Troubador).