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System is cooked when a ‘sexual harasser’ is promoted, not punished

The incident ended the woman’s career at the company. It didn’t dent Pahari’s. Despite being fully aware of the allegations against him, the board was happy to appoint him chief executive of its powerful wealth management arm.

It is the only executive position at the company with an “uncapped” performance bonus. Women at the company are rioting. Management is holding a series of virtual “town hall meetings” to soothe employees, who are asking, straight up, why this man was promoted, given his known history. In a classic twist, Thursday’s meeting was run by the only woman on the executive team, sent in to face livid staff and mop up the mess.

Illustration: Reg Lynch

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

“Get rid of him!” said one staffer, according to reports. “Get a woman in there … How we change culture is by doing shit and not just talking about doing shit.” Hand this employee (I assume it was a woman) an uncapped bonus for services to bullshit-busting.

It is glaringly obvious that while the company is engaging madly in crisis management, it is fretting because it has been busted, not because it is sorry for the appointment. As this column went to press, there was no suggestion Pahari might lose, or step down from his position.

Exposure of this sort of behaviour is its only remedy. Increasingly it seems there is simply no motivation to change anything unless negative publicity and reputational damage might ensue.

At a time of shrinking newsrooms and the increasing shrillness of social media, this is hazardous for everyone, but the unchangeable fact is that it is women who face the most danger, the most damage, and in the case of AMP Capital, the only serious consequences.

Women who are harassed and assaulted are often asked why they don’t speak out at the time, if things were so bad. The question shows a profound lack of imagination and empathy and wilfully disregards the enormous power imbalance at the heart of so many of these encounters.

Former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, pictured in 2015.

Former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, pictured in 2015.Credit: Anna Kucera

In the case of Dyson Heydon, on whom my colleague Kate McClymont and I have reported comprehensively, there was no clear avenue of complaint for the women who worked for him. There was no human resources complaints process at the court.

An associate claimed she told her judge, Michael McHugh, that Heydon had sexually harassed her friend. The associate reported that McHugh told her he had passed the information to the then chief justice, Murray Gleeson.

Neither of the judges, now retired, have commented on these reports, except for Gleeson telling one journalist “the accounts relayed to you are false”, in response to questions.

Whatever the case, nothing was done at the time. The sexual harassment came to light seven years after Heydon had retired from the bench, by which time many of his former associates had left the law.

Eryn Jean Norvill speaks outside the Federal Court in April last year.

Eryn Jean Norvill speaks outside the Federal Court in April last year.Credit:James Brickwood

In the AMP Capital case, it seems the woman did the “right” thing, just as Eryn Jean Norvill did when she spoke confidentially to the Sydney Theatre Company about what she said was inappropriate conduct from her then co-star, Geoffrey Rush.

This week Rush had his defamation victory upheld – he won almost $3 million in damages after the Daily Telegraph published stories accusing him of inappropriate conduct towards a colleague the paper didn’t name. The stories left Rush “devastated and distressed and consumed by grief”, according to evidence heard by the court.

Norvill never wanted her complaint aired. Nonetheless the court case, in which she chose to take part, showed what can happen to women when they do go public with their complaints. Put it all together and it starts to look like the system is cooked.

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Women hope that by reporting the behaviour, there will be some consequences. But too often those consequences boomerang back on them. If they don’t report, they also face consequences and in many cases years of guilt that they enabled a system which rolled onward to hurt other women.

There is a reason why companies ask women to sign non-disclosure agreements when they accept a sexual harassment settlement. Not only does it avoid the kind of public relations crisis AMP Capital is now facing, it allows the system to continue unchanged and for all of us to walk around blind, unaware of the true face of our bosses and our judges.

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