Men behaving badly: testosterone had its role in the lost billions

Sydney Morning Herald
12 February, 2009

If women had control of the financial reins things might have been different, posit Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan in London.

FRED, Tom, Andy, Dennis, Eric, John, Stephen, Antonio and Paul ran British banks that lost billions of dollars.

So they were 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 television on Tuesday before the financial overseers of the British Parliament's Treasury Select Committee. And in line with the usual maths of the financial world, 18 of the 19 key people in the room were men.

"Clearly, something needs to change," said Howard Archer, the managing director of European Forecasting and Analysis 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 downturn deepens, the first rumblings of a gender revolution are under way in an industry long controlled by men. Banks, hedge funds and other financial organisations 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 the top financial sector officials in London.

In Britain, women account for just 12 per cent of corporate directorships of companies on the FTSE 100 stock exchange index. In the US, women hold 17 per cent of the corporate directorships. "Maybe if we had more women in the boardrooms, we might not have seen as much risk-taking behaviour," said Hazel Blears, one of two female members of the cabinet of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Harriet Harman, the minister for women and equality, blasted the banking world for "discrimination and harassment" against women, including 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.

Iceland, which suffered a humiliating economic collapse, has turned over key levers of finance to women. It now has a female prime minister, and women lead two of its major banks. The Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, 66, has vowed to exercise "prudence and responsibility" as she cleans up the male-dominated system that sank the national economy.

"Men, especially young men, made a mess of things," said Kristjan Kristjansson, the Prime Minister's spokesman. "There is a strong discussion that women would have taken a more cautious approach in the financial sector. You could call the financial sector almost like a men's club."

Einar Mar Gudmundsson, an influential Icelandic writer, said: "These financial vikings who made the country bankrupt were in a way like little boys playing with toys." He said he would like both men and women to be involved in reconstructing the nation's financial sector.

In France, Michel Ferrary, a professor at the business school Ceram, recently conducted a study that concluded that French companies with the greatest percentage of women in management have performed the best during the crisis.

For example, he said, BNP Paribas bank, whose management team is nearly 39 per cent female, has weathered the crisis far better than Credit Agricole, where women make up just 16 per cent of managers.

John Coates, a researcher at Cambridge University who once ran a trading desk on Wall Street, recently conducted a novel survey that analysed saliva from 17 male traders in London's financial district. Coates concluded that traders made the highest profits when they had the highest levels of testosterone in their spit. The downside, he said, was that elevated testosterone also led to riskier behaviour, a formula for disaster as well as profit. "If you had more women on the trading floors, you would probably eliminate some of this instability," Coates said.

For three hours on Tuesday morning, four elite bankers sat before the Treasury Select Committee: Tom McKillop and Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Andy Hornby and Dennis Stevenson of HBOS. One after another, under often hostile questioning from the politicians, they apologised for presiding over bank collapses that have cost billions in taxpayer-funded bail-outs.

The legislators accused the bankers of being "arrogant" and "in denial" about their responsibility for the crisis. "It's an old boy's network," Sally Keeble, the committee's only female member, said after the hearing. She said she was most disturbed that the top echelons of British banking seemed to rely on a "cozy consensus of like-minded people" unwilling to listen to those who might challenge their views.

John Thurso, also part of the committee, said: "If there were more women, there might have been more of a reality check."

The Washington Post

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