#MeToo among the Masters of the Universe @ddayen

#MeToo among the Master of the Universe

by digby

Dave Dayen has written a fascinating long read about a Kafkaesque sexual harassment case on Wall Street. I've been wondering why there's been so little #MeToo action among those Masters of the Universe. This partially explains it, and it has a really surprising twist:

ON MAY 5, 2011, Mike Picarella’s first day at HSBC, his boss wanted to know if he was sexting. “No, no,” he reassured her—his wife was just curious how things were going, so he was texting her back. His boss then inquired whether his wife had ever heard of the three-minute rule. “What’s that?” Mike asked. Well, his boss said, leaning in, if she ever wanted her husband to do something, she would give him a blowjob that lasted exactly three minutes, and voila, her wish was his command. Surveying Mike’s blank stare, she belted out one of her giant, guttural laughs and plopped herself down at her desk, a mere two feet from his.

Mike, a 22-year veteran of Wall Street, learned quickly that this was just the way Eileen Hedges interacted with the world. She was raised in a well-off suburb in New Jersey and joined HSBC, one of the largest foreign-owned banks in the United States, shortly after graduating from college in 1991. It was a time when male behavior on Wall Street was particularly noxious. “Women started getting jobs … and men did everything they could to make them feel like they didn’t belong,” says Susan Antilla, author of Tales From the Boom-Boom Room, a history of women in banking. That meant parades of strippers in the office, Playboy centerfolds hung up at the desks, care packages for female employees containing dildos or calzones shaped like penises. It could also mean verbal abuse or sexual assault.

And yet, Eileen managed to thrive in this atmosphere, eventually becoming head of business development for HSBC in the Americas. She moved up, in large part, by cultivating a reputation for being brash, boisterous and profane. By becoming one of the boys. Short and stocky, with blond hair and a penchant for holstering her Blackberry in her bra, Eileen would pant like a dog with her tongue out when certain men walked by her desk, Mike said. Sometimes, he would overhear her musing about which executives would be better in bed: “Mike H. would be fun but Mike S. would be boring.” (Apparently, there is no shortage of men named Mike at HSBC.)

On most work nights, Eileen posted up in her favorite seat at Windfall, the neighborhood bar a block from HSBC’s offices, where bartenders treated her like Norm from “Cheers.” Mike had even been told there was a drink named in her honor, “The Eileen,” a pink concoction with vodka and club soda. She held at least one performance review with a subordinate at the bar. And from time to time, Mike discovered, Eileen would have an assistant book her a hotel room nearby while her husband and two kids slept across the river in New Jersey. Her drinking buddies became a support network for her, a club, an identity. As she wrote to a male co-worker after a night out: “I’d rather hang out with you guys and laugh. … I at least feel normal?”

Mike wasn’t sure what to make of Eileen, but he had strong incentives not to think about it too hard. “He was hired with a view to ultimately being her successor,” said Ian Mullen, a managing director who helped bring him to HSBC. If Mike did end up taking her job, he’d rise to the level of managing director, the fanciest position of his career, worth at least half a million dollars a year in salary and bonuses.

Mike’s arrival boded well for Eileen, too. Having a viable replacement would set up her own promotion to the upper echelons of the bank, maybe some posh new assignment in Hong Kong or London. “Did I tell you I love my new guy,” Eileen wrote a colleague on Sametime, HSBC’s internal chat network, a couple weeks into his tenure. “I am almost floored. ... I don’t have to go to meetings with him.”

Read on. You won't believe what happens. It's a real life dark thriller.