The woman at the centre of harassment allegations that saw AMP engulfed in scandal last year says she was “treated no better than a waitress at a restaurant” during her time at the wealth giant, despite its comprehensive diversity and inclusion policies.
Addressing the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) annual conference on Wednesday, former AMP Capital executive Julia Szlakowski detailed her experiences working for the fund manager, during which time she filed a harassment complaint against its former chief Boe Pahari.
“I never imagined as a qualified professional in a company that holds the public’s trust that I would be treated no better than a waitress in a restaurant,” Ms Szlakowski said.
“I thought I had found a firm I could grow with, a place where I would be safe, where my personal and professional choices would be supported and respected.
“The same individuals who shamelessly touted AMP’s culture to encourage me to join were also the ones who demanded I return to work for my harasser even after my credible complaint against him was investigated and verified. What may come as a surprise is that these individuals were all female.”
Ms Szlakowski, whose explosive 2017 complaint against Mr Pahari was made public last year and caused his demotion and the resignation of AMP chair David Murray, said a “rigorous” focus on diversity during her recruitment by the wealth giant ultimately did not protect her from being vulnerable to workplace harassment.
“I zeroed in on AMP’s corporate culture over their portfolio of assets. I inquired about their diversity and inclusion policy, female staff retention, equality in compensation, and – since I was in the midst of family planning – I drilled down on how they accommodated working mothers,” she said.
“I was informed AMP had just hired two pregnant women, one of whom went on paid maternity leave immediately.
“[But] my years of education and experience... could never immunise me from an experience I share with women everywhere. A company’s toxic culture – where sexual harassment is not taken seriously and handled with the dignity it requires – can degrade and devalue not only the survivors who report it but an entire company’s global workforce and underlying market value.”
Ms Szlakowski said the exit of dozens of senior staff from AMP since the scandal over its handling of the allegations, along with the loss of a number of important mandates by AMP Capital, was proof that companies who did not “conduct themselves within the moral and ethical norms of their customer base” put themselves at risk of billions of dollars in losses.
With recent research conducted by the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins on behalf of ACSI revealing that just 19 per cent of ASX 200 companies had board-level accountability for sexual harassment, and less than half had harassment as a regular board agenda item, it seemed many blue-chip companies were doomed to repeat AMP’s mistakes.
“Currently, it’s a responsive issue, and the last 12 months has meant there has been a lot of responding, there’s been a lot of activity,” Ms Jenkins said.
“[But] there needs to be a better expectation at board level of expertise [in gender equality] rather than a general sense of what’s happening, and that it’s not that big a deal. The important questions for investors to ask are around the processes that are in place, and also advocating for transparency and disclosure on what companies are doing [to improve].”
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