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After Sberbank's outrageous harassment lawsuit, are high pay, high sexism standard in Russian banks?

Svetlana Lokhova has won her discrimination case against Sberbank in London. The 32-year-old Cambridge graduate, who earned up to £750k a year and generated £20m in profits as an equity saleswoman at the Russian bank, could now be in line for compensation of up to £5m.

In a long list of outrageous sex discrimination cases involving banks, Lokhova's was particularly scandalous. For anyone unfamiliar with the details, her successful case against Sberbank included claims that:

  • Her boss, Timur Nasardinov, made an 'unwanted sexual overture' to her at an after dinner event, which she rejected. He subsequently put her on a list of people to fired.
  • She was the only woman on her team and was referred to in emails as, ‘crazy’,  ‘mental,’ ‘totally unstable', ‘quite likely clinically bonkers', and ‘MAJOR car crash’.
  • Her line manager, David Longmuir, suggested she was addicted to cocaine and she was referred to as, 'Little miss cokehead'.
  • Mikhail Stiskin, a senior analyst on Lokhova's team, suggested she should relax after a stressful period by sleeping with a 'alpha male' Nigerian tribal leader he knew.

Lokhova left the Russian bank in January 2012, citing stress caused by a hostile all-male team. Some of her tormentors still seem to be in place, however. Timur Narasdinov remains head of Sberbank's equity division and Mikhail Stiskin was winning plaudits for his mining research at the bank as recently as June. Only David Longmuir 'agreed to step down' in April as a result of the case.

Lokhova's complaints of an all-male team appear justified. A look at Sberbank CIB's list of registered personnel with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)  reveals that only three of its 30 registered staff in London are women. Women are in the minority at Western banks in the City, but they're not usually in that much of a minority.

Paul Marriott, a spokesman for Sberbank, said the bank was surprised and disappointed by the decision and had taken onboard any lessons to be learned. Headhunters said it would be wrong to presume that Russian banks are the wild east of financial services employment. “The London offices of Russian banks are pretty much the same as any other global bank,” says Zaheer Ibrahim at search firm Kennedy Associates.

“It’s simply prejudice to suppose that Russian banks are any more discriminatory than their Western counterparts," says Taru Oksman, a headhunter specializing in Russian banks at search firm Riverhouse Partners. "Russian banks play by the established rules. Yes, there might be a remnant of the old banking culture there – some guys didn’t get the memo – but that’s not a function of the bank being Russian."

What about Lokhova's high pay? Are Russian banks a good destination for anyone looking for a cash package? No. "Most Russian banks pay a combination of cash and stock. That’s the way it is now – you’d be lucky to find a bank that’s paying loads of cash anywhere,” Oksman adds.

Do you have experience of working for a Russian bank? Let us know what you thought of the culture in the comment box below. 

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • La
    6 November 2013

    Branding her as "crazy", "mental" etc is such a familiar male colleague trick. And it's done not only in the financial sector but also in other businesses, sometimes by quite amicably and mild looking men. It is an engrained traditional male bullying tactic. When I experienced this, I did the following: 1) ignored and laughed (this requires a lot of self-confidence and strength and leads to stress and depression); 2) I then quietly decided that the world was a fair place and I would have my opportunity, which gave me inner re-assurance; 3) the world is a fair place, so in a week or two a situation emerged where this male colleague demanded something outrageously mediocre and stupid, which I quietly ignored - simply ignored! - and he went crazy. He started shouting at me in an open plan office for everybody to hear, and I quietly explained why I ignored his request: my explanation showed that my actions were justified and that I did my job better by ignoring him. His outburst made him look bonkers. It was actually hilarious. There was a total peace and quiet after this in our mostly male office (besides me there was just another junior (entry-level) specialist young woman who never spoke up or stood up for anything). I never heard any comments about me possibly being mentally disturbed after this incident.

    Nonetheless I did end up with stress and depression in that workplace. Gender discrimination can only end if parents and the education system change the way men are brought up.

  • co
    5 November 2013

    £5m compensation is as ridiculous as a salary of £750,000 - nobody is worth that money. As for her tormentors, immediate sacking plus donation of their salary to a human right's organization in Russia - it's much needed over there.

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