Real Life: Speak fluent German, look like Sharon Stone: A woman in the City can expect to be judged on her looks as much as her ability, reports Rosanna de Lisle

'I WAS told to wear more make-up and shorten my skirt. I was horrified. This was from a male assistant director. He was genuinely trying to help. He didn't actually say 'Look sexier', but the role-model he picked for me was astonishing: the kind of person who sat so you could see her stocking-tops. Sort of Sharon Stone with knickers.'

Kate is not a model or an actress, but a banker. Two and a half years ago she joined a large British merchant bank as a graduate trainee, having been recruited, she believed, on her academic record and performance in interviews. She never thought her looks were relevant: bright and direct, she is more Jodie Foster than Sharon Stone. She has now moved jobs to become an analyst with an American investment bank. There, she finds male colleagues more respectful, but reports that, for women in the firm, appearance still counts.

Women are not new arrivals in the City. Of Oxford graduates recruited each year in the 'milk round', around 35-40 per cent are now female. The merchant bank Kleinwort Benson has taken three women out of 10 graduate trainees for the past two years; Barings takes 'generally two or three out of eight or nine'. Competition for places is hot - Kleinworts receives 1,500 applications a year and, generally, the number of places has halved since 1987. But, if reports from people like Kate are anything to go by, an extra struggle may lie in wait for many of the enthusiastic female recruits waiting to take up their City jobs this September. For women, starting work in the City can be very similar to boarding at a boys' school. Like girls walking into a dining hall full of schoolboys, they can expect to be wolf-whistled, jeered and marked out of 10 on their looks and dress around the trading floor. Some women play along; others learn to live with it; others hate it so much it drives them out of their jobs.

As a dealer in her second year with a European bank, Harriet sits in the trading room, alongside the sort of men one sees on the television news when the pound collapses: on their feet, stripey-shirt sleeves rolled up, phones dangling over their shoulders, shouting. 'My first day on the dealing floor,' she remembers, 'I was told that all the traders thought I was a stupid bimbo because I had long blonde hair.' So much for her physics degree and fluent German. She swiftly had a hair-cut and swapped her Jigsaw suits for Armani, but the tag stuck. 'At first, I was reduced to tears most days,' says Harriet. In fact she got away comparatively lightly: 'Apparently a girl at an American bank was called 'C***' for her first six months on a dealing floor and nothing else.' Harriet can now hold her own - she makes money - but she still finds men belittle her. 'In this place, a man will always say that you're wrong even if it is blatantly obvious you're right,' she says. 'Often they'll actually say, 'You're too stupid to understand this'.'

Some firms are still nervous of employing women at all. For six years Anna, 31, was a stockbroker with a small, old-fashioned firm. 'I was asked at my interview whether I was going to get married and have children. I was 24. When I got engaged, all hell broke loose. They said things like, 'We're not going to employ any girl above the level of secretary from now on'.'

Anna gave up six months ago, not to have a baby or go to a better job, but: 'because I couldn't beat the system. The City is the last male bastion. It wore me down.' Not instinctively a feminist, she complains that she was separated from the male brokers at every turn. 'I know I was paid less. What was ironic was that they told me.'

The banks and other City employers are generally unwilling to discuss the question of sexist attitudes and discrimination against young female staff. 'We don't notice discrimination here,' said a spokesman for Schroders. 'The girls don't seem to worry.' Kleinworts, BZW and Morgan Grenfell all refused to comment.

Among City men, opinion seems divided. David, for example, a 24-year-old money market dealer at a German merchant bank, was genuinely nonplussed by tales of rampant chauvinism. 'You wouldn't get that here,' he said. 'You do get a lot of dealing room banter, but, if anything, it falls less heavily on the women. It's a lively atmosphere: it's not an accountants' office.' But, when pressed, he conceded that: 'The dealing room only invites a certain kind of woman: they have to have passed the test on both looks and character.'

Tom, 25, a broker with six-figure earnings, was less guarded. 'Lloyds (of London) is appalling. The women are called 'bimbo brokettes' and the underwriters ask if they're wearing stockings,' he alleged.

Support groups for women in the City do exist, but they tend to revolve around senior executives, the early pioneers who beat the system as individuals. Laurenne Hemily-Figus of the Women's City Network finds sexism in the City a 'negative' subject. 'Yes, there is harassment, but I think it's something women can deal with. I think it's a question of doing your job and proving you are superior.'

Defenders of the trading floor atmosphere say men are just as rude to each other as they are to women. 'But that's not the point,' says Denise Kingsmill, a City solicitor who specialises in employment litigation. 'It's raw bullying and if men are doing it to women on account of their sex, that is sexual discrimination. The City is pretty unsophisticated when it comes to dealing with women.'

'There are some horrible, horrible people,' says Tom. 'I don't think it will change. In the States, people get taken to court but it's not a serious threat here. It's all behind closed doors.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

    £38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments