RUTH SUNDERLAND: Halifax's badge of shame – the arrogant banker


RUTH SUNDERLAND: Woke warriors on Halifax’s staff are just the latest embodiment of that perennial social nuisance, the arrogant banker

  • Pronouns row coincided with reduction in number of women heading companies
  • If FTSE bosses wore badges in solidarity with staff most would read he/him 
  • Minuscule minority of women who get to top subjected to disgusting sexism

If FTSE chief executives wore badges in solidarity with counter staff at the Halifax, almost all would read he/him. 

A crashing irony of the row over pronouns at the mortgage lender is that it coincided with a reduction in the already tiny number of women at the head of elite UK companies. 

When Alison Brittain announced her retirement from Whitbread, their modest ranks – there have never been more than ten in the top 100 – were depleted again. 

Sign of the times: If FTSE chief executives wore badges in solidarity with counter staff at the Halifax, almost all would read he/him

Sign of the times: If FTSE chief executives wore badges in solidarity with counter staff at the Halifax, almost all would read he/him

Even the minuscule minority of women who get to the top are subjected to disgusting sexism. Amanda Blanc, the boss of Aviva, and Dame Emma Walmsley at GSK have fielded chauvinistic questions from male private shareholders. 

Both, along with Alison Brittain, have also been targeted by activist investors, who seem to have a knack for homing in on the few companies led by women. 

Academic research suggests male share analysts – and they are mainly men – are more aggressive in their questioning of female chief executives. Our own analysis of pay packages in the FTSE 100 has found the women are paid, on average, much less than the men – albeit still very large sums. 

Banking is riddled with gender inequality. Women are hugely under-represented in the high echelons of the mainstream lenders, and in fin-tech. 

Fewer than 2 per cent of financial institutions’ CEOs are female, according to the IMF. In the UK, two major lenders, NatWest and Nationwide, have women chief executives, as does challenger bank Starling, which is in that context not too bad. Finance and banking has been run by men and shaped, probably unconsciously, to meet male needs. Loans and savings products are often inflexible and not best suited to female lifestyles which are more likely to involve time out or part-time work. 

When NatWest chief executive Alison Rose conducted a study of female entrepreneurs, she found women still do not start up and expand their own businesses at anywhere near the same rate as men.

Her report suggested £250billion of value could be added to the economy if women’s entrepreneurial verve were fully deployed. 

That would go a long way in bouncing back from the post-pandemic slump, but female-run businesses still face difficulty raising venture capital funds. Rose set up a £1billion fund to back female-led firms: a male banker might not even have thought to commission the research. The IMF found a higher proportion of women in senior roles is associated with greater resilience in banks. In other words, they lack the testosterone for a reckless takeover spree, an affair, a corporate jet and a scallop kitchen, with billions of toxic off-balance sheet debt on the side. It is hard to imagine a female Fred Goodwin. 

The inequality and the macho culture that contributed to the financial crisis will not be solved by badge-wearing. 

Nor will the contempt for customers endemic in the banks. Wearing a woke badge is no substitute for genuine respect. 

Perhaps the Twitter team is too young to remember, but it is only 14 years since Halifax – or HBOS as it was then known – was bailed out by taxpayers and a mere five since it paid the money back. 

Some of those taxpayers are now being smeared as too bigoted to bank with Halifax. So too are some of the private shareholders who lost in the near collapse. 

Halifax has plenty of bigger issues than pronouns. The woke warriors on its staff are just the latest embodiment of that perennial social nuisance, the arrogant banker.

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