It is a recurring theme across all industries that it often takes something so shocking and so tragic, that an industry will wake up to the need for change. One such example of this was the news last week of a 21 year old Bank of America intern who was found dead after reportedly working several all night shifts in the space of two weeks. Questions remain as to the previous health of the individual, but rightly so Moritz Erhardt’s death has placed the culture of banking in the spotlight yet again.
Most people who enter the investment banking industry will be aware they are signing up for some of the most physically and mentally testing jobs in the corporate world. Excessive demands from clients and a desperation to climb the career ladder spur employees on in a never ending game of one-up-man-ship. This type of environment makes it easy to get stuck in a world of constant competitiveness where you can’t let your guard down for fear of a colleague pipping you to that promotion you’ve been yearning for. However wasn’t it this ruthless competition that contributed to the financial crisis – allowing some bankers to lose sight of the bigger picture and place personal gain over social responsibility? The banking sector has been forced to re-evaluate its image in recent years. In doing so the sector has claimed to have made a number of changes to alter its image of what the Economist recently referred to as being home of “The Banksters”. However the case of Moritz Erhardt raises serious questions as to whether the culture of banking has really changed, or indeed whether it can.
There are many, mainly those within the sector, who will speak glowingly of the competitive and aggressive nature found within investment banks. They assert that competition breeds productivity, bringing out the best in employees and perhaps most importantly, increase the profits of a firm. However like all things competition can go too far and become too intense, as we have been brutally reminded of.
The well-being and health of workers is not the only reason we should consider a change in banking culture. Long-hours, a cut-throat environment and a macho culture do a lot to deter women from entering the corporate world. However there is a growing body of research which suggests having a greater proportion of women in business can in fact improve the culture of an organisation, and enhance profitability via the different set of skills they bring to the table. A programme about to be launched by The Saïd Business School at Oxford University, The Women Transforming Leadership Programme, is helping to promote this belief that female talent can improve the corporate landscape. One of the programme directors explains that women possess skills that are in increasing demand and that men often don’t have. The ability to listen, act compassionately and recognise problems that need tackling all come more naturally to women, and can help businesses overcome the complex problems that are the make-up of modern day business.
However to encourage more women to enter the corporate world and crucially to keep them there, we need a change of culture. One that relies less on time spent in the office and more on outcomes. To do this could bring benefits to all those who work in overly competitive industries such as banking or law, and a more stable and ethical economic system may result.