The 330-year-old London financial institution vows to tackle abusive work culture

The Me Too movement has been muted in the world of London finance, but It may have just caught up

FILE PHOTO: Lloyds of London's headquarters is seen in the City of London, Britain, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
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Taking losses of £1 billion (Dh4.85bn) is bad enough, but in the world of finance, things just got a lot bleaker.

Lloyds of London, one of the world's most famous insurance market exchanges, acknowledged it had endemic problems on Thursday, after claims it has an entrenched culture of sexual harassment that treats women as a "meat market". Lloyd's of London chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown said they are cracking down on sexual harassment after reading the shocking revelations published.

The City institution has also said it will introduce lifetime bans for offenders found guilty of harassment.

In revelations published by Bloomberg, 18 women have spoken out about their harrowing experiences in the 333-year-old exchange located in the heart of London’s financial district.

It is reported that women working on the exchange floor have been subject to near constant harassment at Lloyd’s and treated as “near cannon fodder”.

Many women who have worked for Lloyd’s, and who chose to remain anonymous, said the deeply sexist culture often starts with alcohol, with underwriters working short hours, interrupted by drinking in between making deals.

The whistleblowers say the working environment puts them at risk.

Lloyd’s has also been accused of tolerating situations where women are constantly judged for their looks. Women were barred from Lloyd’s floor until as recently as 1973, when the ban was lifted.

"Women at Lloyd's boxes are still being called a host of names including 'totty'," said Mairi Mallon, an insurance public-relations specialist writing in her blog, Sexism in the City.

In a previous blog post dating back to 2017, she wrote that women at Lloyd’s are often rated “from 1-10”.

Women with international experience in insurance and other areas of finance say the pervasive harassment at Lloyd’s and in the wider London market is unique.

Inga Beale, hired as the first female chief executive of Lloyd’s in 2014, pushed for progress and cultural change at the institution, but says she was met with continual resistance.

“Fundamentally, to crack behaviours and clubby groups that have known how to support each other over centuries, to kind of really crack that is incredibly tough,” Ms Beale told Bloomberg.

She stepped down last autumn, after being told by Lloyd’s that she spent too much time on diversity initiatives. The resistance she faced ranged from comments such as “tone it down” to handwritten letters sent to her that “she should go and die”.

While the Me Too movement has so far engulfed the world of entertainment, media and retail tycoons, it seems London's financial bubble had so far escaped.

One reason for that, victims of harassment say, is the high risk of losing jobs and the high costs involved with pursuing claims in UK courts.

"Unless you have a rich father, you aren't going to be able to afford suing. You're also going to destroy your reputation, and you basically have to decide that you will never work in the industry again," said one female broker.