BlackRock ‘intrudes’ on office romances

If you work for Larry Fink, he ­really wants to know who you’re hooking up with.

Fink, the voluble chief executive of BlackRock — the world’s largest money manager — recently “updated” his company’s dating policy. In the past, employees were on notice to tell HR anytime they had a romantic relationship with another employee, an understandable but intrusive part of corporate life in the era of ­#MeToo.

But last week, Fink and his management team went overboard, with a policy that was euphemistically titled “updated relationships at work.”

“Employees are required to disclose all Personal Relationships with other BlackRock employees or contingent workers; as well as Personal Relationships with employees of a service provider, vendor, or other third party (including a client), if the non-BlackRock employee is within a group that interacts with BlackRock,” read a portion of the policy obtained by yours truly.

OK, let’s digest that for a moment. We know that men in powerful positions have abused their power, and many are rightfully ­being held accountable for it. A ­degree of oversight is necessary.

We also know people are human; they work long hours and often find a mate while at work. But the BlackRock policy goes beyond normal monitoring of employee-to-employee behavior to such an ­Orwellian degree that, at least on its face, it could force the firm’s HR department to impose judgments any time one of the company’s ­employees goes on a date.

Consider: BlackRock employs more than 16,000 people worldwide; its employees include everyone from C-suite executives to money managers to marketing folks, technicians and computer programmers across the globe (the firm’s presence in India, for instance, has expanded rapidly in recent years as a way to cut labor costs), not to mention people who work as assistants, secretaries and the janitorial crew.

Larry Fink
Larry FinkAFP via Getty Images

The firm manages $7.4 trillion in money for individuals, big companies, sovereign wealth funds . . . and I’m sure I’m leaving out some. BlackRock isn’t just big, it’s massive. The firm’s tentacles touch every major bank in the world in some fashion, and many nonbanks — from companies that provide computer programming, to vendors operating coffee carts in its offices all over the world.

You see what I mean. Taken literally, we are talking (conservatively) thousands of people who interact with BlackRock in one way or another and might be affected here. Does this mean every time any of Larry’s employees goes on a date with a person who has a job in finance (and many other professions), they’re supposed to check for any connections to BlackRock and report the matter to HR or face firing?

I asked BlackRock to put Larry on the phone to tell me if I’m missing anything here, but a spokesman demurred. A senior BlackRock executive who spoke on background did, however, confirm the contents of the firm’s new policy and conceded it may be the broadest dating disclosure requirement in the financial business, if not Corporate America.

The executive defended the policy, and said its purpose — to prevent conflicts — is in line with other big companies. It’s also designed to make life easier for employees, he insisted.

“It takes the assessment of what is or is not a conflict out of the employees’ hands and puts it in to the hands of HR and lawyers — which makes it eminently enforceable,” the executive said.

He added that the “real focus” isn’t innocent, casual relationships that might occur between people at BlackRock and people at other companies that do business with the firm (i.e., friendships), but what he referred to as “inter-team relationships” that are romantic in nature. He noted that the policy puts the disclosure emphasis on relationships with a “non-BlackRock employee … within a group that interacts with BlackRock.”

The executive, however, also conceded that there’s a degree of interpretation in the rule. Some more innocent relationships could fall under the policy depending on facts and circumstances, which is why HR wants to be involved.

The bigger question I have is why is BlackRock — which is supposed to be in the business of managing money — has become such a hotbed for progressive Corporate Puritanism that goes far beyond #MeToo concerns?

You can point to a couple of recent scandals involving in-house dating at BlackRock that captured headlines. One involved Mark Wiseman, its global head of equities (and once a possible Fink successor), who late last year left the firm after it was disclosed that he had a consensual relationship with a colleague who worked under him. Adding to the drama, Wiseman’s wife worked at BlackRock while all this was…

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