Has she hurt the cause of equality?

Three millionaires out of a job: as Nicola Horlick joins Chris Evans and Brian Harvey,

City personnel directors faced with an application from a woman may think twice after the extraordinary, publicity-seeking performance of Nicola Horlick over the past few days.

The consensus from the City was that, far from being "superwoman", the suspended pension fund manager has put back the cause of female equality in the Square Mile - and possibly at the top of British professional life elsewhere - for years.

"A credibility factor has arisen now. However good she was at making money, people will wonder whether she's going to jump off the ship tomorrow," said one headhunter.

And Andrew Kirton, investment manager at Sedgwick Noble Lowndes, a firm of pension fund advisers, said: "We have heard a lot about superwoman this week, but very little about the pension fund clients. This should not be star-system business but one which takes regard of its clients' needs."

Mrs Horlick has also dealt her own chances of securing lucrative alternative employment, at least in the short term, a critical blow. Who, asked one leading City insider, would want to employ a woman who, once scorned, drags one of the City's institutions through the mire?

That feeling was heightened by two interviews she gave yesterday to the Sunday Express and the Sunday Telegraph. In the Sunday Express interview, Mrs Horlick said she was now keen to be a Labour MP and she hoped "that Tony Blair will win the election".

If they can afford it, most people in her situation seek a lawyer. Mrs Horlick did just that, securing the services of Herbert Smith & Co, one of Britain's most fearsome firms of legal practitioners.

That appointment was commensurate with her status at Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, one of the financial world's leading houses. Herbert Smith, lawyers for Mohammed Al-Fayed, the redoubtable Harrods chairman, could be relied upon to pursue her cause with discreet but arm-twisting vigour.

Mrs Horlick, with her pounds 1m earnings and a husband in the six-figure bracket to boot, could well afford the firm. The feeling at large in the City was that all she had to do was let her solicitors do their finest. They could have secured her job, or a handsome pay-off, without a whimper of scandal. Her name, and that of the mighty Deutsche Bank, Morgan Grenfell's owner, would have remained intact.

She could have found a similar post straight away - after all, the row blew up precisely because she was so marketable, allegedly in talks with ABN Amro to decamp to the Dutch bank with her team.

Whatever drove her first to confront her superiors at Morgan Grenfell and then, denied an audience, to fly to Frankfurt to storm the head office of Deutsche Bank with the media in tow, it will, City hands were saying, prove her undoing.

The media-massaging was unnecessary and uncalled for. Fingers were pointed at Anthony Cardew, the other adviser she appointed to work alongside Herbert Smith. Mr Cardew is a public relations man. Like her lawyers he is at the pinnacle of his craft. Known as "the Cad" (after Fifties comedian Cardew "the Cad" Robinson) among financial journalists, whose attention he carefully cultivates at his club, the Reform, he has British Aerospace, Eurotunnel and Lonrho among his clients - and now, Nicola Horlick, just turned 36, mother of five.

Always turned out in dark pinstripe, cufflinks and polished black shoes, the Monte Cristo-smoking Mr Cardew operates from a plush, classically decorated office in a side street adjacent to the National Gallery.

He is an arch-exponent of media manipulation, of turning potentially damaging stories about his clients into good, of dampening down fires before they arise, of trading a favour for a favour with financial editors.

To be fair to Mr Cardew, even he appeared slightly bemused by Mrs Horlick's behaviour on Friday, professing not to know that she was intending to give an exclusive interview to a Sunday newspaper.

The reality is that, in Mrs Horlick, even the Cad has met his match. There is something strangely terrifying about her. That squat, dumpy figure, those dark, forbidding clothes, that shock of vivid red lipstick, the pallid, ghostly complexion. She has used her sex ruthlessly to her advantage - as Mr Cardew himself observed, if she had been a man her story would not have rated two paragraphs.

She appears to have brought her problems upon herself. Fiercely ambitious, according to colleagues, she apparently entered talks with ABN Amro. Concerned that this was not the right way to proceed, some members of her team alerted Robert Smith, Morgan Grenfell's chief executive, that she was unhappy - but he was not made aware of her discussions with ABN Amro. On that basis, he offered her the job as his number two and they shook hands.

End of story, or so it should have been. Except that last weekend, Mr Smith was rung by a mystery informant who allegedly told him his newly- promoted fund manager was in talks with ABN Amro.

Old news - or had Mrs Horlick, on securing the top job, still felt dissatisfied and carried on talking to Morgan Grenfell's rival? Whatever the answer, Mr Smith subsequently decided she had to be suspended. The result has been a publicity blitz that has set City heads shaking.

For all its claims of change and advancement, the City is still an old- fashioned, sexist place. Share-dealing rooms are dominated by a male, laddish culture. Bank boardrooms are predominantly masculine. Women are admired for their looks more than their ability. Always, no matter how far they rise, there is a sneaking suspicion by their male counterparts, that underneath they are made of weaker stuff, their emotions are fragile, their body-clocks rule, their children will come first.

Those that do make it, like Mrs Horlick and Carol Galley, her opposite number at Mercury Asset Management, are the exceptions.

As one City gent said about working with a woman - not Mrs Horlick - in the book City Lives: "I used to work with X and it was just awful. Her children would ring at six o'clock and say, `Mummy, are you coming home soon?' `Yes, darling. I'll be home soon.' Seven o'clock, `Mummy, you said you'd be home soon.' `I'm sorry, I will be there soon.' Eight o'clock. `Look, darling, could you ask Nanny to give you supper and put you to bed? I will be there very soon and I will read you a story, I promise.' Nine o'clock. `Mummy ...' It tore her apart. But she always said, `I am absolutely clear where my priorities lie. They lie with my work.'"

Sadly, it was felt yesterday, no matter how hard women work in the City and regardless of the sacrifices they make, their struggle for acceptance has been made harder than ever.

Business, pages 1 and 6

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