The City of London has a certain mystique about it at first. The shine doesn't last long, but when you first start working there, a whole new world becomes apparent. There is a set of rules, most of them unspoken and unwritten, that are a mystery to the newcomer, and remain so for most of us.
When I think of 'The City' I picture some senior ex-colleagues who I'm sure are familiar characters to most City workers. They look out of place without the bowler hat or country house surroundings. They are the ones who seem distinctly uncomfortable if you greet them in the morning or make eye contact with them. Dare I say it, if you do these things as a woman, they act perplexed and almost embarrassed on your behalf.
While the City workers suffer from the seemingly un-ending redundancies at the moment, these characters remain, from what I can see, largely untouched. The perception among people who haven't worked in the City seems to be that the 'fat cats' are finally coming unstuck. Those faceless capitalists - who are probably responsible for the whole credit crunch anyway - are getting their own medicine. But the reality is that the fat cats remain. Steadfast and safely ensconced in the boys clubs they've fostered over the years, continuing to avoid the fall of the axe.
The institutionalised rules of the boys club don't bother me so much. There's no point railing against something that is so firmly entrenched and indeed actively fostered in some companies. The most worrying element is that the closed ranks have come even closer together, in many cases, protecting the club members at the expense of doing the right thing from a business perspective. And certainly, there's not much consideration for the lower ranks when one's own comfortable career might be at risk. And as this happens and a sense of barely restrained panic pervades, it seems the rules for treating staff well have gone rapidly out the window.
The lack of respect or understanding for the average City worker that has become evident in these past few months is worrying. Fair evaluation of workers' skills against few available roles seems to be optional, and even the application of due process is disappearing.
I know at the company I once worked for, many of the people who have been made redundant have been through this before. Peaks and troughs in business are a given, and we're all adult enough to understand that sometimes staff have to be let go. But without exception, even amongst those for whom redundancy is not a new experience, the way the company has treated them through the recent months has proved distasteful and worrying.
The majority of my ex-colleagues have been advised by lawyers that they have grounds for wrongful dismissal cases, mainly because the company has not applied processes consistently, or has failed to communicate appropriately. However, the appetite for long, drawn out legal battles with ex-employers with very deep pockets is understandably absent. So it's accepted, albeit reluctantly. The workers 'go away quietly' hopefully with enough money to see them through a brief period of unemployment.
In my own case, I've worked in much more cut-throat industries, and I also know that I'm very employable, so I am viewing it as an opportunity for a change that I was going to take anyway. I now have a bit of money to tide me over. When I do choose to go back to work, I'll find a great job in a company that respects its staff.
But I do worry for my ex-colleagues, some of them less experienced and less assured. Nobody deserves to feel that they've been treated unfairly, and the investment of some improvement in understanding the human side of the redundancy process from an HR and management perspective would be a welcome change. It's important to treat your staff well, respectfully. And to do that in real life, not just by having lots of 'happy staff' photos in the glossy annual report brochure.
The fact remains that the boys club mentality is alive and well in the City may be more so in particular firms than in others. At least I have to hope that's the case, otherwise, there's no point in ever returning to work in The City, with hopes for a chance of a fair opportunity in the network of unspoken codes. Right now a relaxing swim in a shark tank feels more likely, and indeed, more appealing to me.