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Wall St. CEO calls out men afraid to be alone with a female colleague in the #MeToo era

Long-time investment bank CEO Richard Handler, who’s led Jefferies (JEF) since 2001, called out men working on Wall Street who are afraid to be alone with a female colleague in the #MeToo era.

“As calendar 2018 comes to a close, it’s not only the painful market volatility and collapsing asset values on our mind. Markets will ebb and flow and business and investing cycles are as natural as the earth spinning on its axis and revolving around the sun. The thing that vexes us is the thoughtless, paranoid and fundamentally wrong reaction that many people in our industry are expressing about the #MeToo movement and many other efforts to assure fairness and decency in the workplace,” Handler wrote in a firmwide memo.

The Fearless Girl statue stands at its new location in front of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News published an article titled “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Costs”, which has garnered a lot of attention. In the piece, 30 senior executives, mostly anonymously, expressed how they’re avoiding being alone with female colleagues whether it’s in a meeting, a meal, or a work trip. Some feel they are walking on “eggshells” and fear a “false accusation.”

In his memo, Handler expressed disappointment at those views expressed by male financial services professionals.

‘Intentionally wrongheadedly trying to defend unacceptable behavior’

“Many things in life are complicated or have shades of nuance that require serious analysis, debate and complicated decision-making. Some things in life are obvious, straightforward and crystal clear. In our opinion, this topic falls into the latter category,” Handler wrote. “If you don’t know how to conduct yourself as a responsible, courteous and balanced human being, the fault lies exclusively with you and not with an allegedly flawed system designed to ensnare the innocent.”

He noted that professional women want the same things as professional men, including “responsibility, challenge, fulfillment, career development and trajectory, fair and just compensation and rewards, leadership opportunities and the chance to make a difference doing what they enjoy.”

“The men who have uttered the above quotes (or think in a similar manner) are intentionally wrongheadedly trying to defend unacceptable behavior by arguing that women choose to falsely accuse men of bad behavior and, in the process, are welcoming publicity, stigma, pain, and tribulation as a shortcut to career success and riches,” Handler wrote, adding, “Seriously? Do you have sisters, daughters, girlfriends, wives or mothers and have you ever spoken with them?”

He noted that his own firm is “far from perfect” and “more work needs to be done” across the industry to “create a level playing field.”

“There is no excuse to exclude anyone from business meals, top-level meetings, presentations, mentoring, travel or social situations based on gender or any other designation,” Handler wrote. “It is always appropriate for the ‘best and brightest,’ which we define only in terms of ability and competence, to have full access to every experience that can best advance our business and their careers.”

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter. Send tips to laroche@oath.com.

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