Long-time investment bank CEO Richard Handler, who’s led Jefferies (JEF) since 2001, called out men working on Wall Street who are afraid to be alone with a female colleague in the #MeToo era.
“As calendar 2018 comes to a close, it’s not only the painful market volatility and collapsing asset values on our mind. Markets will ebb and flow and business and investing cycles are as natural as the earth spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun. The thing that vexes us is the thoughtless, paranoid and fundamentally wrong reaction that many people in our industry are expressing about the #MeToo movement and many other efforts to assure fairness and decency in the workplace,” Handler wrote in a firmwide memo.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg News published an article titled “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Costs”, which has garnered a lot of attention. In the piece, 30 senior executives, mostly anonymously, expressed how they’re avoiding being alone with female colleagues whether it’s in a meeting, a meal, or a work trip. Some feel they are walking on “eggshells” and fear a “false accusation.”
In his memo, Handler expressed disappointment at those views expressed by male financial services professionals.
RELATED: #MeToo and #TimesUp movements
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Orla Dean, 5, holds a placard during the Time's Up rally at Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street on January 21, 2018 in London, England. The Time's Up Women's March marks the one year anniversary of the first Women's March in London and in 2018 it is inspired by the Time's Up movement against sexual abuse. The Time's Up initiative was launched at the start of January 2018 as a response to the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Activist Tarana Burke, the original creator of the 'Me Too' hashtag, speaks at the #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic)
Ada Kennedy, 7, looks up at her mother as they participate in a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other House Democrats wear black as they participate in a photo-op at the U.S. Capitol prior to President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. House Democrats plan to show up in black when attending the State of the Union address this evening in support the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 08: Women attend the beginning of a march for women's rights at Schlesisches Tor on International Women's Day on March 8, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Millions of women across the world are celebrating and maching today, many of them newly motivated by the #metoo movement. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 5: Harvey Weinstein and attorney Benjamin Brafman exit State Supreme Court, June 5, 2018 in New York City. Weinstein pleaded not guilty on two counts of rape and one count of a criminal sexual act. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Attorney Gloria Allred (L) participates in the LA Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California on June 10, 2018. The annual LGBTQ celebration drew an estimated crowd of 150,000 people. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 04: (EDITORS NOTE: This image has been shot in black and white. Color version not available) Activists attend the MeToo vs. Kavanaugh Survivors March on October 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lucianna Faraone Coccia/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: 75th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: (l-r) Actors Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and America Ferrera arrive to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018. (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Activists participate in the Take Back The Workplace March and #MeToo Survivors March & Rally on November 12, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)
Activists protest Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Los Angeles, California on September 28, 2018. Professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A woman who declined to give her name wears an outfit with the names of all the men in Hollywood who sexually harrassed her during a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Samantha Hanahentzen, 17, poses for a #MeToo portrait in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2017. Hanahentzen said: "When I saw the #MeToo hashtag I was just coming to terms with my sexual assault. It happened when I was in middle school by one of my teachers. It took me a while to come forward with what had happened to me and then when I went to the administration I was told I didn't have enough evidence to prove anything and I should just keep quiet about it because I and the school could be sued for slander if I went public with my experience. It was really silencing because when I was being assaulted it was that stereotypical line of 'let's keep this between me and you.' And then when I found the courage to come out with it I was told again 'let's keep this quiet.' So for me too, it was a way to have a voice and it was a way for me to see that I'm not the only one that has gone through this and that women all around the world have all experienced the same thing. It was really unifying." REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demonstrators gather on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a protest for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28: Activists participate in the 'Believe Survivors. STOP Kavanaugh.' rally hosted by TIME'S UP & Partners at Los Angeles City Hall on September 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20: Actor Sarah Hyland at 2018 Women's March Los Angeles at Pershing Square on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images)
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‘Intentionally wrongheadedly trying to defend unacceptable behavior’
“Many things in life are complicated or have shades of nuance that require serious analysis, debate and complicated decision-making. Some things in life are obvious, straightforward and crystal clear. In our opinion, this topic falls into the latter category,” Handler wrote. “If you don’t know how to conduct yourself as a responsible, courteous and balanced human being, the fault lies exclusively with you and not with an allegedly flawed system designed to ensnare the innocent.”
He noted that professional women want the same things as professional men, including “responsibility, challenge, fulfillment, career development and trajectory, fair and just compensation and rewards, leadership opportunities and the chance to make a difference doing what they enjoy.”
“The men who have uttered the above quotes (or think in a similar manner) are intentionally wrongheadedly trying to defend unacceptable behavior by arguing that women choose to falsely accuse men of bad behavior and, in the process, are welcoming publicity, stigma, pain, and tribulation as a shortcut to career success and riches,” Handler wrote, adding, “Seriously? Do you have sisters, daughters, girlfriends, wives or mothers and have you ever spoken with them?”
He noted that his own firm is “far from perfect” and “more work needs to be done” across the industry to “create a level playing field.”
“There is no excuse to exclude anyone from business meals, top-level meetings, presentations, mentoring, travel or social situations based on gender or any other designation,” Handler wrote. “It is always appropriate for the ‘best and brightest,’ which we define only in terms of ability and competence, to have full access to every experience that can best advance our business and their careers.”
— Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her onTwitter. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.