(Bloomberg) — One of London’s top money managers, responsible for overseeing billions of pounds of assets at M&G Prudential Plc, is alleged to have sexually harassed female colleagues over several years.
The senior fund manager targeted women in junior positions at the firm’s London headquarters and barraged them with sexually explicit text messages, inappropriate comments and unwanted physical contact, according to people who experienced or witnessed his behavior and asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
One woman who frequently dealt with the manager said he would often put his hand on her bottom, fondle her thighs or give her unsolicited shoulder massages. When she asked him to stop, she said, he would refuse and complain she was being uptight, or say he had touched her by accident. A second woman said he did similar things to her.
The first woman said she complained about the behavior to the firm’s human resources department. It isn’t known what, if any, action the company took, but the manager has remained in his position.
“We consider the allegations that you have raised with us to be very serious matters which merit a full investigation,” Alexandra Ranson, a spokeswoman for M&G, said in an email to Bloomberg News. “We want our people to feel safe where they work, and expect all our employees to treat each other with dignity and respect. If it is found that any individuals in the employment of M&G Prudential have breached our very clear policies relating to conduct and behavior, we will take the appropriate disciplinary action.”
The firm has hired law firm Baker McKenzie to assist with the investigation, according to people with knowledge of the probe. A Baker McKenzie spokeswoman declined to comment.
M&G, which manages about 340 billion pounds ($430 billion) of assets on behalf of both retail and institutional investors, is owned by British insurer Prudential Plc. Prudential is planning to spin off its U.K. and European investment and savings business as M&G Plc later this month.
Harassment is still part of daily life for many women working in finance in London, where the high cost of pursuing court cases and some of the toughest libel and privacy laws in the world conspire against them.
In contrast with the U.S., where media outlets have identified accused sexual harassers, many in the U.K. have remained anonymous. Few people who say they’ve been victims have been willing to make those claims publicly in court. Bloomberg News isn’t naming the manager at this time. His lawyer said he has never been made aware of any complaint about his behavior to HR.
A Bloomberg Businessweek investigation in March revealed a culture of sexual misconduct nearby at the 331-year-old Lloyd’s of London insurance market, ranging from inappropriate comments to unwanted touching and sexual assault. In response, Lloyd’s set up a whistle-blower hotline, introduced lifetime bans for inappropriate behavior and barred those under the influence of alcohol or drugs from the exchange.
Like Lloyd’s, M&G has a deeply embedded drinking culture, where some employees, including managers, knock back pints in the pubs and clubs around the office at lunchtime before returning to the office or after work. Some would round off an evening with a trip to a strip club. Rape jokes and other coarse sexual language were the norm in the office and at the pub, the people said. Some men would openly look at pornographic pictures on their mobile phones while at their desks, one person said.
The senior manager who allegedly harassed junior colleagues made no secret of what he was doing. At a staff party a few years ago, he approached a trainee, grabbed her around the waist, held her close and kissed her, according to a person who witnessed the incident. The woman was visibly distressed, but no one did anything to stop him, the person said. The manager did the same thing to another woman later that same night, the person said.
The manager would target women in junior positions where they didn’t have any power, the people said. One woman said he started off by making inappropriate comments about her clothing and physical appearance, then asked for her phone number in case he needed to contact her outside of work and connected with her on social media.
The woman said she initially felt flattered that a senior manager seemed to care about her and wanted to hear her opinions. Things spiraled quickly, though, and he began sending increasingly inappropriate messages and photographs to her phone and email accounts. He would sometimes send sexually graphic messages late at night while she was sleeping, so it would be the first thing she saw in the morning. She said she asked him to stop and had never given him any reason to suspect she was interested in him sexually.
The manager was able to get away with his abusive behavior for so long because of his seniority, the people said. Many of those who said they were victimized by him or who witnessed his behavior said they were too scared to complain to HR or their managers because they thought it would negatively affect their careers. Some were recent graduates with no experience of corporate life and not in a position to challenge someone operating with seeming impunity.
Those who did complain saw nothing come of it. One woman who lodged a formal protest said she was advised to smile less around the manager and dress more conservatively. The HR manager she complained to, a woman, told her she wasn’t the first person to say she had been sexually harassed by the fund manager.
One person said that when she asked her manager for advice about how to handle the situation she was told she needed to toughen up, as that was what the industry was like. The manager said there was very little that could be done about it, and that she should count herself lucky as the behavior of men in London’s financial district used to be far worse.
The senior fund manager wasn’t the only alleged offender at M&G. One man pointed a phone camera up the dress of a female colleague without her knowledge at an after-hours gathering and then shared the photo with others, according to a person with direct knowledge of the incident.
One of the women said men would routinely assess the attractiveness of female employees. Several said they would like to have sex with her. “You would definitely get done,” she recalled one saying. “I would destroy you.”
The woman said she didn’t complain to HR because she thought it could hurt her chances of promotion, risk turning her colleagues against her and wouldn’t result in any disciplinary action. She said her experiences were in no way unique and that women had to develop a thick skin if they wanted to survive at the firm.
One woman who worked in various parts of the business said she experienced sexual harassment in one form or another on all the desks where she worked. She also didn’t complain to HR because was worried about the impact on her career.
M&G fired a junior fund manager in 2017 for posting sexually explicit pictures online of a 22-year-old trainee after she had spurned his advances. Davide Buccheri, the fund manager, created a gallery of pictures using photos from the woman’s social media accounts alongside edited pornographic images he found on the internet. He then told managers at M&G about the photos. Buccheri was reported to the police and subsequently found guilty of harassment and sentenced to 16 weeks in prison. He declined to comment.
The firm said at the time that it “does not tolerate harassment of any kind, and we have very clear processes for identifying, investigating and resolving any issues which arise.”
Ranson, the M&G spokeswoman, said in her email that the company encourages current and former employees to report any behavior they have experienced or witnessed at work through a confidential hotline. “His or her concern will be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated and appropriate action will be taken,” she said.
There are parallels in the way M&G failed to deal with allegations of inappropriate behavior and how insurance companies in the Lloyd’s of London market turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct. The women Bloomberg interviewed as part of the Lloyd’s investigation said their employers willfully ignored the near-constant harassment they suffered. The few who complained to HR were usually talked out of pursuing their grievances after being told it would hurt their career prospects to do so.
Two of the women who worked at M&G said they found it easier to leave than take on their harassers. One, who said she had been harassed by the fund manager for years, said that after she gave notice the abuse stopped, and he turned his attention to the newest hire on the desk.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gavin Finch in London at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Katz at [email protected], Robert Friedman
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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