An Investor Lost a Billion Dollars over a Sexist Speech. That's Good. But the Finance Sector Is Still Infected | Opinion

The CEO of a prominent investment firm has lost more than a billion dollars in client investments following remarks that have been widely denounced as sexist and offensive.

At a conference earlier this month, Ken Fisher, founder of Fisher Investments, stunned some attendees with his comments, which included referring to genitalia and comparing the pursuit of new clients to "going up to a woman in a bar and saying, 'Hey, I want to talk about what's in your pants'."

CNBC obtained audio from the private event after a male attendee described and assailed the remarks on Twitter. One of the women attendees called the comments "outrageous."

In response to the uproar, Fisher insisted that he was misunderstood and said he has made similar remarks in the past to no such complaints. But he apologized as well, saying, "I realize this kind of language has no place in our company or industry."

This incident should serve as a wake up call to other business leaders and speakers who somehow still believe it's OK to say things that could make anyone, especially women, feel uncomfortable.

It's similar to something I witnessed and spoke out about last year. At a sales conference, a speaker objectified his wife, who was in the audience. He called her "that," it," and "dumb dumb." He also discussed what they would be doing on his private jet afterward.

"I checked my phone: yep, still 2018," attendee Allison Grinberg-Funes later wrote about this. "I looked around: no handmaids in red robes."

I was disgusted, and joined women in a new effort to shine a light on the uncomfortable situations and outright sexism that women still have to grapple with. Three fellow sales leaders I admire, all of them women, and I held a webinar and invited people to share their stories of sexism in the workplace.

The responses we collected were harrowing. One woman had a boss who told her that of the 15 people on her team, the two who should be fired were the only two women. "He said they were weak and couldn't handle the pressure. I pointed out the fact that he was measuring the women differently. I said it to him and other leaders. He had a history of removing women. Everyone knew it, but nobody did anything. I left and helped the other two women find different jobs."

Another said, "I'm sick of hearing the 'his intention was good' excuse. Regardless of intention, you should know how to act appropriately in this day and age. I've confronted two men who have made inappropriate comments to me or my directs and the excuse is always, 'Oh she took it the wrong way, I meant it as a compliment.' That excuse is old... and it gets annoying trying to educate someone who thinks women are being overly sensitive."

A man wrote that an event dinner, a female colleague of his brought along a male business prospect. After the dinner, another attendee suggested that the man had only come because she was offering him sexual favors.

Some men also shared their own stories of experiencing sexism in different ways.

As people work to eradicate sexism from the workplace, one crucial step is to show that sexually charged remarks at professional events are simply unacceptable. Men should be as quick as women to call such things out when they hear them. Fortunately, many men do call these things out. Most people, men and women, are decent and hard-working and want to tackle this.

You don't have to have a daughter to be a man who cares about sexism. But my daughter does help inspire me to fight. In the wake of the sales conference last year, I wrote a children's book focused on a girl learning sales skills. I want to empower kids, especially girls, with everything it takes to succeed so they can become leaders in equal numbers.

There are far too few women leaders in both financial services and sales, just as in many other industries. As long as there are still men who think it's OK to speak in these ways, industries will continue to send the message that business is a "man's world." It's time to end this -- and to bury workplace sexism once and for all.

John Barrows is author of I Want to Be in Sales When I Grow Up, and CEO of JBarrows Sales Training.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

An Investor Lost a Billion Dollars over a Sexist Speech. That's Good. But the Finance Sector Is Still Infected | Opinion | Opinion