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AMP scandal reflects greater industry issues, senator says

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AMP is not the only financial services company with cultural skeletons in its closet, senator Deborah O'Neill has warned, with the politician reporting she has heard echoed experiences of sexual harassment from a number of women across the sector.

Speaking to Financial Services Council (FSC) members on a Wednesday webinar, the Labor senator, who is deputy chair of the parliamentary corporations and financial services committee, said a number of women had reached out to her about their experiences of sexual harassment in the sector since the recent fallout at AMP. 

After former employee Julia Szlakowski revealed her experiences of harassment from her then-boss, Boe Pahari (who has now been demoted from being AMP Capital chief executive), Ms O'Neill used her parliamentary privilege to air the harassment claims from another former AMP staff member.

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“She [Ms Szlakowski] gave a truly horrifying recount of her experience in one of the biggest companies in the country, that is critical and has been held in such high esteem over many decades,” the senator said.

“AMP, like all of the big providers, is critical to the economic wellbeing and the social wellbeing to the services providers of Australia. We need it to be successful, we need it to be sustainable, we need it to be professional.”

Women with high skills and talent will leave the industry if they enter into toxic workplaces and are given no support after suffering sexual harassment, Ms O'Neill said.

“That’s happening to too many, many people are walking away silently,” the senator said.

“She [Ms Szlakowski] did too. But finally she came and put her story on the record, she’s not on her own. Women are contacting me about the cultural practices that are a problem in the sector.” 

Nick Kirwan, senior policy manager, life insurance at the FSC noted the body couldn’t be expected to make a comment about one of its members. But Ms O'Neill commented AMP was not the only organisation with cultural issues.

“I just want to single AMP out and that particular story as one example of what’s been reported across a large number of significant players in the financial services sector,” she said.

“And it shouldn’t shock people, they know what’s going on. And the people who are reporting in, who are called whistleblowers, would be better perceived as very significant assets to these companies to give them the opportunity to intervene early and effectively, to create safer workplaces, model workplaces dare I say, where mental health is prized and given premium value.”

Wealth giant IOOF recently flagged two sexual harassment complaints it had received in the last five years to a parliamentary committee.

But other issues are prevalent for women in financial services, who just trying to enter and progress through the industry. 

In the broader financial services industry, women make up 54.7 per cent of the workforce, as captured in data from the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency. However the representation falls short in the top levels of companies, where less than a tenth, or 9.5 per cent, of CEOs are female. 

In the past year, financial services and insurance industry retained the highest pay gap out of all industries in Australia, with women in the sector copping 29.3 per cent less in their total remuneration. This compared to a divide of 20.8 per cent across industries. 

Ms O'Neill expressed frustration at the state of current diversity measures, saying some in the industry are “playing the game” and offering “nurturing” or mentorship rather than jobs and promotions. 

“There is no excuse. There is no rational or moral or ethical explanation for why women are not represented in the boardrooms of Australia, at senior management positions in every industry, in equal numbers to men,” Ms O'Neill said.

“It just is inexplicable. It cannot be allowed to continue… just give women a go.”

She pointed to senator Jacqui Lambie as an example of a woman who had been successful once granted the opportunity to enter parliament, despite lacking similar education or experience.

The FSC recently launched a fund manager resource and guidance note in an effort to boost gender balance in investment management teams. 

The industry body has given guidance on recruitment and talent management and pushed internal sponsorship over external mentorship to elevate staff within companies.

It also referred to research by McKinsey & Company from 2017, that had reported a strong correlation between women in top management teams and better financial results. 

Executive committees with the most female members recorded a 47 per cent improvement in return on equity and a 55 per cent difference in operating results than those with no women.

 

AMP scandal reflects greater industry issues, senator says
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Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth. 

Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio. 

You can contact her on [email protected].

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