City culture: Is machismo still rife in London’s Square Mile?

Many were East End barrow boys made good. They drove fast, expensive cars, wore Rolex watches and designer suits and thought nothing of spending five-figure sums in London’s best restaurants.

These were the Champagne Charlies of the 1980s, the City wide-boys – and girls – who worked hard, and played even harder.

But anyone under the illusion that the City wide-boy has been consigned to the history books would be wrong. At least, according to nearly half of respondents to a survey undertaken by recruitment consultant Robert Half Financial Services Group.

The company, which specialises in placing financial and banking professionals, polled 242 people coming into its offices across three areas of London – West End, Docklands and the City – and found that 45% of respondents believed the wide-boy lived on.

“These are the high rolling, City-based characters that buy low and sell high. They see the streets as being paved with gold and they spend their bonuses and burn the candles at both end. It’s the stockbroker-trader mentality of the late 1980s, which we have found still exists,” commented Neil Owen, branch manager of Robert Half.

So does this mean City institutions have merely paid lip-service to creating a more diverse workforce, while continuing to recruit stereotypes? Neil Owen thinks not. “These results show that stereotypes are difficult to overcome,” he said. “Most of the large banks have done a lot of work to ensure they employ a diverse workforce.

“Employing a range of people is a very positive thing for employers. If you don’t, you are narrowing your opportunity to learn from other people, other cultures and other upbringings. It brings a more rounded approach and companies are now realising this,” Owen said.

Mark Brewer, a partner at Frazer Jones, agreed. “I think City institutions are making a concerted effort in broadening their appeal and attracting people from all sections of the community – there is a real desire from all organisations to improve the ethnicity, gender and age mix of their employees.”

However, he too believes the wide-boy is still out there, albeit in a more culturally diverse form. “He’s not just limited to white, anglo-saxon, protestants – the wide-boy (and girl) culture is made up of all types of people,” Brewer said.

“The City is a macho business, so you’ll never eradicate it. You wouldn’t necessarily want to, although you might want to temper it a little and ensure employees have a greater awareness of what they are doing and how they come across. The City is about sales and egos and that’s about people with a hunger,” he said.

Martyn Wright, a director of recruitment consultant Oakleaf Partnership, was also adamant that the City has attempted to embrace diversity, at least in most cases. “There are still pockets of typical City wide-boys and East End barrow boys made good, but generally it’s not so prevalent now,” he said.

So while City companies are, in the main, becoming more diverse organisations, particular jobs are still best suited to certain personalities – especially sales-based positions that require money-orientated, hungry, confident people.

“It’s a highly pressurised environment where people can make a lot of money and lose a lot of money, so you need people who are results-driven,” concluded Wright.

The difference now is that competition for jobs means recruits are usually graduates with good 2:1 degrees, and many come from the US, Europe and Asia as well as from different ethnic, religious or family backgrounds.

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