It used to be that financial services firms would respond to accusations of sexual harassment inside their company with denials, followed by investigations and inevitably a spate of firings and public apologies. The whole thing was kind of an accepted dance; massive corporations tying themselves in public knots as a mea culpa for utterly unacceptable behavior that we all knew was troublingly common.
In Silicon Valley, the whole thing seems to be strangely flipped. Harassment is so seemingly rampant in tech that companies are on the offense, attempting to prove a negative and paint themselves as the rare "Woke" tech firm. More often than not, the whole thing unravels.
But inside the obtuse Venn Diagram that is Fintech, it appears that even responding to scandal is being disrupted. According to the WSJ, the online lender SoFi is denying widespread sexual harassment inside the company by willfully misunderstanding what sexual harassment is:
In interviews, nearly a dozen current and former employees working in various departments told The Wall Street Journal that some executives, including the company’s former finance chief, engaged in or tolerated what they described as improper behavior toward women in recent years.
And, what pray tell, did they describe?
Nino Fanlo, who was SoFi’s chief financial officer until the end of May, said he occasionally complimented both men and women’s outfits and touched both men and women’s shoulders to try to be friendly. “It wasn’t sexual,” he said.
Hey, what operation doesn't want an executive who can crunch the numbers and work out those troubling knots in the shoulders of disinterested female subordinates? Get you a CFO that can do both, right SoFi?
SoFi’s board said Mr. Fanlo “left the company in May 2017 to pursue another executive opportunity. He no longer has any relationship with the company.”
Separately, SoFi’s board disclosed after questioning from the Journal that in 2012 it paid money to settle a dispute between a lower-level employee and Chief Executive Michael Cagney. The nature of the dispute isn’t known, but the board said it didn’t involve a sexual relationship.
So like a Fantasy Football thing, or was this another example of a touching-based-yet-non-sexual dispute? It seems like nothing at SoFi is ever sexual, which is hard to believe at a place that offers such great rates!!!
Call us crazy, but it seems like SoFi is claiming innocence of all sexual harassment by addressing examples of sexual harassment and proclaiming "That shit was platonic! It didn't mean anything." And it appears that sometime it was:
Employees describe a culture inside its headquarters in the Presidio neighborhood in San Francisco and a call center in nearby Healdsburg, Calif., where they felt pressure to work extra hours at night and on holidays to avoid being fired. Mr. Cagney, 46 years old, used to tell SoFi staff that if they weren’t waking up twice a week in a cold sweat, they weren’t working hard enough, according to a former staffer.
Some of those employees said that the culture veered out of control at times, with executives breaking furniture and throwing telephones out of anger.
Yeah, that's not sexy [without more context].
But is SoFi willing to admit to any issues? Some of this stuff sounds pretty damning:
More than half a dozen former employees told the Journal that there were workplace issues involving Mr. Fanlo. He would commonly make comments about the physical appearance of female employees and touch their shoulders in ways that made them uneasy, according to ex-workers who experienced both behaviors.
Mr. Charles’s lawsuit said Mr. Fanlo “touched women inappropriately, and made them feel uncomfortable.”
And since Fanlo has already been separated from SoFi due to things that are obviously totally unrelated to these innocent massages, this would be a great time for everyone to admit that it's bad female employees felt discomfited and that changes will be made going forward:
Mr. Fanlo said that no one raised complaints with him and that he would have stopped had he known it made employees uncomfortable.
“I would have said, 'Geez, I’m sorry,’” had those gestures been interpreted in that way.
"If I'd known playing GrabAss made people feel weird, I would have halfheartedly apologized," is maybe not in the HR Handbook...maybe.
Here's the thing, this shit goes on a lot of places, and while it's unforgivable you can't just deny the sexual aspect of workplace harassment and pretend like you're innocent of employing flawed human beings. We understand the urge of Fintech types to want to be above the fray, disrupting finance by being more evolved than the industry, but this is just very hard to swallow.
And if SoFi is offended by our lack of belief in their story, all we can say is "Geez, we're sorry."