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The message for employers from the $37 Million David Jones Lawsuit – and why it’s critical you hear this

Kristy Fraser-Kirk has made headlines recently by launching a $37 million lawsuit against David Jones for the behaviour of former CEO Mark McInnes and the corporate world has been stirred into a conversation rife with diagnoses of the moral to this story. There has been a lot of discussion about what Fraser-Kirk is hoping to achieve, and her potential impact. My take? Kristy Fraser-Kirk and her lawyers are sending a strong message to employers and corporations that it’s time for sexual harassment to be a thing of the past.

Kristy Fraser-Kirk’s claim is unusual for several reasons, including the grounds of the action, the high claim and her promise that the funds will go to charity should she be successful. I think her case is all about the message she is trying to send, on behalf of herself, the four other unnamed DJ employees victim to McInne’s sexual misconduct and working women Australia wide. My advice to employers almost always includes “listen to your women, and hear what they’re actually asking for”.  In Fraser-Kirk’s own words “I’m a young woman standing here today simply because I said hat this should never happen to me, or to anyone”.

 Is Fraser-Kirk after money, headlines or publicity? Not at all – she tried to remain anonymous, but reporters outed her name given the intense interest generated by cases like these.  Employers who think that there will be little consequences to corporate failure to tackle workplace cultures can think again, the media attention and public interest is so strong in cases such as these there will be no escaping reputational damage.

 Even before this lawsuit splashed headlines, McInnes’s poor behaviour was not been unremarked upon. I posted a blog about his behaviour when he hit headlines a while back and comments have been rolling into my inbox regarding the symptomatic nature of McInnes bad behavior to wider discriminatory attitudes to women including: 

“…as President of the National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) I wrote to Mark McInnes 12 months ago to tell him that his behaviour towards women was not ok.” – Kate Gunn, President of the NFAW

“I hate to say this, but I have seen similar issues more times than I care to recall. Not always at C level – but the behaviour of too many men in senior levels of business are governed by their testosterone level.” – Anthony, ICT Manager

 It’s time for employers to take a long hard look at their company’s work place culture, just like a lawyer gearing up to sue you might. With waning indulgence of sexist behaviours, amended ASX guidelines meaning more women are being recognized and hired for key positions, intense media scrutiny and the indisputable bottom line benefits of women in executive roles the time has definitely come to ready your workforce for women leaders.


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