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We have no hope of ending harassment at work so long as bad behaviour continues to be rewarded

Womens Agenda, 28 April 2021

Disgraced former CEO of AMP Capital, Boe Pahari is expected to be departing AMP Capital shortly with a golden handshake in the vicinity of $50m. 

This is despite the fact that in 2020, Mr Pahari was involved in a workplace sexual harassment scandal that resulted in assets under management falling $6 billion over 12 months as employees scrambled to leave the beleaguered company, and investors pulled away. 

While Pahari’s imminent windfall might be contractual and disconnected to his conduct, it’s a cold comfort for people damaged by his bad behaviour.

It begs the question: why is it that bad behaviour does not lead to bad consequences for some?

Compare and contrast this to the treatment that former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate received, for example. 

As a consequence of gifting four executives with Cartier watches valued at a total of $20 000 for securing a lucrative deal, Prime Minister Scott Morrison coined the gifts as “disgraceful” in Parliament. Holgate lost her job (despite the government insisting that she quit of her own volition) and has faced severe reputational damage since a slew of incensed men led by the Prime Minister hog-piled on the movement.

There’s a long history of this differential treatment.

Junior publicist, Kristy Fraser-Kirk, sued David Jones for $37m due to the sexual harassment she endured at the hands of then CEO, Mark McInnes. Fraser-Kirk received $850 000 in the end (much of which went to paying her legal bills) and Mr McInnes resigned, complete with a golden handshake rumoured to be at least $2m. 

Meanwhile, Fraser-Kirk was labelled a ‘gold digger’ and McInnes an ‘inveterate flirt who had simply misread the signals’. Fraser-Kirk was left to flee Australia to escape the vitriol, while McInnes was employed as head of Solomon Lew’s Premier Retail and Executive Director of Premier Investments up until January this year when he stepped down for personal reasons.  

Cadet reporter, Amy Taeuber, and her freelance sister Sophie were BOTH sacked by Channel 7 after Amy lodged a complaint of harassment against a senior male reporter. A few days after lodging her complaint, Amy was summoned to a meeting with HR and escorted from the building, told she was being suspended. The male reporter remained safely employed.

Or take Amber Harrison, Executive Assistant at Seven West Media whose contract was terminated when the company learned of a consensual affair between she and [married] CEO, Tim Worner. She left her position in 2014 with an enforced gag order firmly in place. Harrison became involved in a messy court battle with the broadcaster after she publicly disclosed details of the affair in 2016, and eventually walked away. As for Worner? He remained in his position for a further three years. 

Just last year, an independent investigation commissioned by the High Court found that former Justice Dyson Heydon sexually harassed a minimum of 6 former associates. Despite this, Justice Heydon retains his Order of Australia.

And most recently, Christian Porter continues to hold his position as a high-ranking minister, despite persistent and wide-ranging claims in relation to his behaviour with women recently and earlier in his career.

I’m sure you can see the pattern.

If you are a senior male, in a position of power and/or profit generation, then bad behaviour doesn’t always lead to a bad outcome. In a country where Aboriginal people are incarcerated for minor offences, how can public and private sector leaders in Australia not see the unjustifiable inequity of this situation?

There’s a lot of talk now about ending the harassment and mistreatment of women at work and in the community. When it comes to the workplace – we have no hope of any change as long as bad behaviour continues to be tolerated, minimised and even rewarded. 

Good Leaver/Bad Leaver clauses in bonus schemes have been widely used for a long time – so why do we not see them transparently apply to corporate benefits and recognition? If business is serious about creating change and improving the treatment of people in the workplace, then they need to hold up the mirror and take an honest look at the structural and behavioural disincentives to creating true culture change.

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