Bank regulator Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was a toxic cesspool of mysogyny that didn’t punish male supervisors for vile acts that included sending female co-workers photos of their genitals and having sex with underlings, according to a bombshell investigation released Monday.
The agency has been slow to discipline sexism in the work place in the years following the #MeToo movement — perhaps because the company is the worst offender, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday following a lengthy probe.
The alleged incidents included a male FDIC supervisor in Denver who had sex with his employee — then told other colleagues about it and pressed her to drink whiskey during work.
In other reported cases, senior bank examiners texted female employees photos of their genitals and invited employees to a strip club.
All of the anonymous men involved in these incidents remain employed at the FDIC, according to The Journal.
The toxic work environment and lack of punishment has left female employees feeling they have no choice but to leave the company, The Journal reported following interviews with past and present FDIC employees, legal filings, union grievances, Equal Employment Opportunity complaints, emails, text messages and other internal documents.
Female examiners described FDIC to The Journal as a sexualized, boys’ club environment where women’s appearances were talked about openly.
In one shocking example that illustrated what the FDIC’s male-dominated workplace looked like, a former female FDIC employee recalled her male colleagues saying women needed to use sex to get ahead — as they stared at her.
Female colleagues also believed they were consistently given fewer opportunities than their male counterparts, according to the outlet’s 100-plus interviews with current and former employees, including more than 20 women who quit.
“It was just an accepted part of the culture,” Lauren Lemmer, a former examiner-in-training, told The Journal.
Kelsi Foutz, a former Salt Lake City- and San Francisco-based FDIC senior risk management examiner, agreed.
“For the longest time, I didn’t have any perspective. It was just normal. You deal with it,” she told The Journal, recalling a time when she was told not to raise a concern about her 2018 performance review because the reviewer “is just intimidated by tall, beautiful women.”
Two male managers advised her to “just smile and make him feel good,” she said.
During one of her lunch breaks years earlier, in 2013, an examiner complained to then-21-year-old Foutz about not having enough sex with his wife, per The Journal.
He told Foutz: “Obviously if I walked into this office and you were naked, I’d f–k you right here.”
Foutz said that she was so stunned that she didn’t say anything and never filed a complaint, then quit last year over the company culture, The Journal reported.
Even when traveling away from FDIC’s Washington, DC, headquarters — which regulators often do to examine and supervise banks across the country “for operational safety and soundness,” per the FDC’s site — the sentiment remained the same, female staffers told The Journal.
The FDIC’s work culture was so palpable no matter where its staffers were in the country that life on the road was dubbed the “Wild West.”
One of the female examiners who received a photo of a colleague’s penis was traveling with a team to conduct a bank exam in North Carolina in 2018, according to a text message reviewed by The Journal.
The woman, who remained anonymous, decided to avoid a confrontation about it because the team was staying at the same hotel and working closely together, she told the outlet.
Lemmer quit her job at the FDIC in 2013 after three years, during which she said she was followed back to her hotel room by a male colleague during training in Dallas, invited to a strip club in Seattle by other bank examiners and sent an unsolicited naked photo by a colleague.
On top of all of that, she was also denied opportunities to advance, she told The Journal.
Another San Francisco-based examiner, Neha Singh, joined the FDIC in 2017 as a trainee.
It was her first job out of college and she was immediately sent out to the so-called “Wild West,” where she told The Journal she felt pressure from her colleagues to come out drinking every night, particularly while traveling.
When Singh did join the team for a drink, she said she felt “really taken advantage of in a moment where I was totally vulnerable” as male colleagues seemingly tracked how many glasses of wine she drank — and coaxed her to drink more, according to The Journal.
Singh quit the FDIC in 2022 — in her first year after earning her commission, which meant she had made it to as to the full-fledged examiner designation.
She said she was explicit with senior managers in the office that she was leaving because of what she viewed as a culture of harassment and misogyny, according to The Journal. One manager told her they had heard similar concerns from other women and knew it was a problem, she said.
FDIC examiners could spend as many as 100 nights a year on the road, and teams were often made up entirely or mostly of men.
Meanwhile, the 11-story hotel where the FDIC put up out-of-town employees when they came to Washington was described as a party hub. Here, it wasn’t uncommon for workers to vomit in the elevator or urinate off the roof after working all day and spending the night heavily drinking, the Journal reported.
The publication also cited an Instagram post from 2021 that referenced the heavy drinking culture.
Though it’s unclear what the photo was, the caption read: “If you haven’t puked off the roof, were you ever really a FIS?”
FIS, the Financial Institution Specialist, is the FDIC’s four-year examiner training program.
A spokesperson for the FDIC told The Post: “Harassment in any form is contrary to the FDIC’s values and our deep commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace. We have various training, reporting and oversight programs that endeavor to create a safe and equitable environment where all employees can feel valued and respected.”
“When we identify misconduct, we investigate and take appropriate action. In addition, we continually seek employee feedback and input on ways to promote and improve the culture through our Workplace Excellence Councils, Employee Resource Groups and other means. To ensure we are living up to our values, we will continue to conduct periodic reviews of our programs and policies.”
In the wake of The Journal’s findings being made public on Monday, FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said that the federal agency hired independent firm BakerHostetler to conduct a “top-to-bottom assessment” of alleged harassment and discrimination at the banking regulator.
“I encourage you to participate in this process,” Gruenberg told his workforce, according to The Journal. “To the extent the assessment identifies further actions we can take to strengthen our agency, we won’t hesitate to implement them.”
He added that harassment and discrimination are “completely unacceptable” and said the agency doesn’t tolerate or “turn a blind eye” to it.