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Why the bad boys of business need to be pulled into line

You may have been following the storm in the teacup that has been brewing as a result of litigation involving ANZ Bank, strip clubs and certain (allegedly) badly behaved traders who it turns out are paid more than their Bank’s CEO. In case you missed it, here’s a snippit.

boysnightout

Image credit http://aggressivecomix.com/2014/10/boys-night-out-animated-short-from-pixar/

In response, ANZ, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank have all come out and said that employees attending strip clubs is unacceptable behavior.

Seriously? We didn’t know this already?

So let’s do a reality check: it’s 2016 and we’re still debating whether or not attending stripclubs – places where women are employed to titillate groups of men leering on at them – is appropriate in the context of work related events.

And it turns out – with my zero level of experience in attending such establishments – I’ve been asked to talk a LOT this week about strip clubs with journalists from the Australian Financial Review and on talkback radio with Ben Fordham on 2GB and John Cadogan on 2UE.

Mostly everyone agrees that strip clubs are no longer appropriate venues for business meetings. That’s a given, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen (as I’ve reported here before here and here.)

But one of the issues that has been debated with me over the past week is whether it’s fair for employers to dictate what employees can and can’t do not only in work time, but in their personal time outside of work hours as well.

As certain football clubs know all too well, what employees do in their personal time can have a massively detrimental impact on a business’ brand, employee morale and ultimately shareholder returns. That’s why big bosses are coming down hard and ruling with an iron fist that certain behaviours will no longer be tolerated. Ever.

Now normally I’m not a fan of nanny-state regulation on what individuals do with their time or in the privacy of their homes. But in the case of strip clubs for bankers and offensive, drunken antics of high profile footballers, it seems sensible for certain activities to be categorically ruled out. Blacklisted. Never to be tolerated in any form.

And here’s the reasons why:

  1. The impact on other employees: It isn’t fair for those workers who love their job and pour their heart and soul into performing it to the best of their ability every day, when their livelihood and career then becomes collateral damage to a handful of individuals behaving like Neanderthals. Who wants to be associated with a company that’s in the press for all the wrong reasons, especially when it involves objectifying women or animals or both? It’s hardly a motivating experience for employees when these stories about their workplace hit the news stands.
  2. The impact on the business brand: Big companies spend a fortune on marketing and promoting their brand. Millions and millions of dollars every year. Yet for all the positive advertising, PR and community engagement, it takes only one bad news story for the broader population to associate a brand with the negative sentiment it generates. Like it or not, a LOT of women and plenty of men don’t feel great about buying products from a business that condones inappropriate behaviours and attitudes towards women. And with 74% of women making or sharing the financial decision-making in Australian households, the negative branding effect is real and can be extremely costly. And shareholders know this all too well.
  3. Times have changed. Public sentiment has changed with it. And for the most part, big business has evolved in line with community expectations of gender equality. There are now so many more alternatives to convene important business meetings. I mean when the last time you held an important team building event at Minx or Men’s Gallery?!? Overall, we’ve come up with better ways of doing business and that’s a good thing for all of us.

Do you agree? Some of my contemporaries still haven’t been convinced. And to the doubters, my acid test is this: if you think the women in strip clubs are fair game, then would you be happy for your mother or daughter or sister or aunt or niece to be objectified in the same way? Would you like to see her employed in this capacity? How would you feel if she was asked to attend venues that exploit other women, as part of their work requirements?

One caller to talk back radio said his overseas clients like going to strip clubs, so as a way of respecting their culture he felt he should oblige. Really? So if their culture is to shoot elephants or lions you’d be ok with that too? Or to enforce female genital mutilation on little girls, would that be ok then too?

Yes, these incidents as reported are isolated instances. But that doesn’t make them acceptable. It doesn’t make it less offensive for women caught up in it.  And it doesn’t mean leadership shouldn’t act. As our brand new Australian of the Year, David Morrison AO has said so well in the past, “the standard that you walk past is the standard you accept”. Perhaps it’s timely that we review his message here:

Surely, as a business community and a nation, it’s time the rest of us stepped up to the challenge to put a full stop behind this chapter.

Your thoughts?

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"The only moment we ever really have is this one - celebrate it. Happiness isn't in the future or the past but in the awareness of the present." - Anna McPhee

Anna's words are how she lived her life. She has been an amazing inspiration, a wonderful support, a gracious mentor to me throughout my career. So many of us counted her as a girlfriend to look up to, and her legacy will live on in the many women she has inspired to live their very best life.

I will miss her.

Sending condolences to Reggie, Anna's beautiful mum Trish and adoring sisters, and all of her extended family.

Vale Anna Marsali McPhee (1970 - 2017)
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