In Financial Crisis, Some Britons Note, It's the Men Who ‘Made a Right Mess of It'

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

LONDON, Feb. 10 -- Fred, Tom, Andy, Dennis, Eric, John, Stephen, Antonio and Paul ran British banks that lost billions of dollars.

So they have been called in for a grilling by Nick, Graham, Colin, Jim, Stephen, Michael, Andrew, George, Mark, Peter, three Johns -- and a single, solitary Sally.

The interrogation of the lions of British banking, many of whom have lost their jobs, began on live television Tuesday before the financial overseers of Parliament's Treasury Select Committee. And in line with the usual math of the financial world, 18 of the 19 key people in the room were men.

"Clearly, something needs to change," said Howard Archer, chief European and U.K. economist at IHS Global Insight in London. "You can argue that the men have made a right mess of it, and now the ladies should have a go."

As the global financial crisis deepens, the first rumblings of a gender revolution are underway in an industry long controlled by men.

Banks, hedge funds and other financial organizations that have led the international economy's downward spiral are overwhelmingly male-dominated. The regulators and legislators assigned to oversee the financiers are also mostly men.

"There are quite a lot of alpha males with testosterone steaming out their ears," said Stuart Fraser, one of London's top financial sector officials.

In Britain, women account for just 12 percent of corporate directorships of companies on the FTSE 100 stock exchange index, according to a group of major British business leaders who have called for "urgent action" to increase the number of women at the top levels of business.

In the United States, women hold 17 percent of the corporate directorships -- and 2.5 percent of the CEO posts -- in the finance and insurance industries, according to Catalyst, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that promotes opportunities for women in business.

"Maybe if we had some more women in the boardrooms, we may not have seen as much risk-taking behavior," said Hazel Blears, one of two female members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's cabinet who weighed in on the gender debate here this week.

Harriet Harman, the minister for women and equality, blasted the banking world for "discrimination and harassment" against women, including a culture of using lap-dancing clubs for corporate entertainment.

Amid the debate about whether the financial crisis would have happened, or been as severe, if more women had been in charge, there are signs that more women will be taking part in the global rescue.

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