Business & Tech

Fidelity looks at whether fund unit’s culture is hostile to women

A sign marks a Fidelity Investments office in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. September 21, 2016. To match Special Report USA-FIDELITY/FAMILY REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Brian Snyder/REUTERS/file

After the recent firing of two senior male portfolio managers, Fidelity Investments has hired a consulting firm to investigate whether the culture of its stock-picking division is hostile to female employees, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Earlier this month, the Boston-based financial services giant forced out C. Robert Chow, 56, for making “sexually inappropriate comments,” according to the person, who asked not to be identified because Fidelity doesn’t comment on specific employees.

The Globe could not immediately find contact information for Chow. The Wall Street Journal, which earlier on Sunday reported his firing and Fidelity’s decision to examine the work environment of its equity division, said Chow’s lawyer declined to comment.

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Fidelity in September pushed out tech fund manager Gavin Baker amid allegations of sexual harassment, the Globe reported earlier this month. A spokeswoman for the 41-year-old Baker said at the time that he left “amicably” because he planned to marry a woman who worked at Fidelity and Baker “believes his new fiancee and he should not work at the same firm.”

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Fidelity said on Sunday that the company does not tolerate sexual harassment.

“When allegations of these sorts are brought to our attention, we investigate them immediately and take prompt and appropriate action,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson appears to be moving quickly in hopes of keeping the closely held company founded by her grandfather from being sucked into the furor over widespread and persistent sexual harassment throughout corporate America. Most recently, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was fired after numerous women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and rape. Weinstein has denied the allegations, but many associates have said his behavior was a poorly kept secret for decades.

The fund management industry remains dominated by men, but Fidelity, which oversees $2.3 trillion in assets and the retirement funds of millions of Americans, has women in many top positions. They include Kathy Murphy, president of its personal investing business; Nancy Prior, president of its fixed-income division; Judy Marlinski, president of its institutional asset management unit; and Melissa Reilly, chief investment officer.

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Brian Hogan, president of Fidelity’s equity division, called a meeting last week to make clear that the company would not condone sexual harassment or any other inappropriate conduct, according to the person with knowledge of the situation.

In addition to the meeting, first reported by the Journal, Fidelity has brought in a consulting firm to “identify if there are any problems with the culture,” the person told the Globe. “It’s a male-dominated field. There is the potential for problems, but we don’t want it.”

The Journal said a 2015 report written by a group of female Fidelity employees was presented to senior staff in the firm’s stock-picking unit, citing four people who saw the report or attended a presentation of it. The report, also sent to Johnson, warned of a male-dominated culture at the equity unit and its detrimental effects on women in particular, the Journal said. A Fidelity spokesman said the company was not aware of the report.

In its statement, Fidelity said it has multiple ways for employees to raise concerns, including “the Chairman’s Line,” which it called a channel to anonymously report concerns of unethical or inappropriate activities.