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Senators call on SEC, FINRA for sexual harassment data for financial sector

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is one of three senators who asked the SEC and FINRA to provide data about sexual harassment within the finance and insurance sectors.

Council of Institutional Investors also releases tips for corporate boards to address sexual harassment

Three senators on Thursday asked the Securities Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to provide data on the prevalence of sexual harassment within the financial sector.

In a letter sent to the agencies, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said that while the finance and insurance sector had the ninth-largest number of sexual harassment claims filed from 2005 to 2015, the financial sector has had fewer public revelations of sexual harassment than other industries.

"The silence appears to result from strong 'cultural and financial forces' in the industry that discourage speaking out, including payout of large settlements with non-disclosure agreements to harassment victims, class-action prohibitions and forced arbitration," the senators wrote.

In addition to any data on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the financial sector, the senators asked for suggestions on what regulators can do to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces.

"Better data will help remove the financial services sector's cloak of silence about sexual harassment. And it could encourage more boards of financial companies to step up efforts to combat sexual misconduct," said Amy Borrus, deputy director of the Council of Institutional Investors.

A new report from CII released Thursday offers steps that public company boards of directors can take to mitigate the risk of sexual harassment, in five key areas: personnel, board composition, policies and procedures, training and diversity.

"Overseeing how top executives manage risk is one of the most important duties of a board," CII Executive Director Ken Bertsch said, "but in general, many boards have not taken a close look at how their companies are addressing sexual harassment risk, and are struggling with how to exercise effective oversight. CII's report offers practical ideas on how to tackle this threat."

The guide also has questions for shareholders to ask directors to assess the quality of their oversight of sexual harassment risk. The questions should help shareholders engage board members on this issue and hold directors accountable for oversight of management efforts to deal effectively with sexual harassment and corporate culture, Mr. Bertsch said.

The report, "How Corporate Boards Can Combat Sexual Harassment: Recommendations and Resources for Directors and Investors," is available on the CII website.