When the throngs of women began coming forward detailing outrageous instances of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, it didn’t take long before they were lauded as brave, strong, and voices to be heard. The women were supported, and encouraged, and believed.
Yet, here we are once again with a litany of young women describing, in horrific detail, the repeated acts of sexual harassment by a powerful political figure. And crickets.
Where is the outrage? Where are the celebrities championing these women? Where is the Time cover encouraging even more women to come forward and share their stories?
These young girls all alleging sexual harassment — and, in some cases, assault — by the sitting New York governor have not found the open arms of the Hollywood “Me Too” movement, and it’s a cold isolation I know all too well.
After coming forward as the first public case of “Me Too” on Wall Street, my experience was anything but gestures of support, encouragement, and a welcome into the safe haven shared by fellow survivors. Instead, I was ostracized from the career in asset management that I had spent decades building, and the industry where I shattered glass ceilings was raining down on me with those same shards of glass.
It is important to validate the sexual harassment and gender discriminatory experiences of women — because it not only happens on Wall Street, but on Main Street. Dozens of women have contacted me with their stories, and sadly, the harassment component isn’t the only battle they face.
These women have dealt with inappropriate sexual advances along with challenges in getting promoted or fairly compensated. They are dealing with the hurdles of inequitable compensation, being judged — sometimes unconsciously — on the basis of unfair female stereotypes, and bosses who penalize them for having child care issues, or even cancer.
Most of these women are terrified to come forward, and you need not look far to wonder why. They see what happened to my career after a New York Times article. Landon Thomas was the original reporter who penned an article about my situation — really an article about the culture of TCW Group being a Petri dish for all forms of harassment and discrimination.
Sounded promising, but unfortunately, Thomas’ article was tossed, and his interview files deemed radioactive when he was fired due to his association with Jeffrey Epstein. Oh, the irony.
The ultimate reporter, when I apologized for not being able to remember exact details about a breakup, nastily criticized my not being able to remember details of “hookups” either. This is the same sort of doubt that those victims of Andrew Cuomo — with Catholic priests, Olympic coaches, Epstein, etc. — have encountered.
The focus needs to be on that doubt. Does anyone realize just how difficult it is to come forward? Can you, for one second, imagine the mental gymnastics that takes place when weighing the scales of standing up for yourself and standing up for what you know to be right, versus keeping complicit, and therefore keeping your career intact and continuing to bring home the paycheck that pays your bills?
Trust me when I say there is always a tiny voice whispering, “Keep quiet.” A tiny voice reminding you that there must have been some level of encouragement or complicity on your part for this unwanted attention to have occurred. A tiny voice asking if there was something you did to cause that person with power to treat you that way.
Sexual harassment and assault are just other forms of abuse of power, and sadly our society has historically conferred power to men. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are inevitable in finance, where men outnumber women 9-to-1 despite statistical evidence of outperformance by women.
“Me Too” alone will not solve this problem. Wall Street is not going to change until women are able to garner a large share of the money and resultant power.
And powerful men love to push the mute button in the form of arbitration clauses in employment contracts. These non-disclosure agreements only exacerbate the issue by keeping complaints confidential, eliminating the ability to influence and mobilize public opinion.
What can women do? Hit them where it hurts: the pocketbook. The silent majority in this equation are the investors whose retirement and savings dollars are Wall Street’s lifeblood. They have the leverage over and deserve to benefit from gender fairness, ensuring the most qualified people — no matter their gender — will be in positions to perform best for investors.
However, the pension boards with all their public talk of diversity and fairness, refuse to vote with their feet and pull money from firms who tolerate all-male investment teams, gender discrimination, and even sexual harassment.
For women working in both politics and finance, success and the ability to provide for their families depend on ignoring and being complicit in the offensive behavior that can come with the territory. Ultimately, we all pay the price for the maintenance of the imbalance of power.
It’s time to take the finger of power off the mute button.
The author is a candidate for mayor.