The board does not 'condone' the previous behaviour, but will promote anyway

The board does not ‘condone’ the previous behaviour, but will promote anyway

It wasn’t long ago that AMP chair David Murray and his board signed off on the appointment of a new CEO for AMP Capital, despite knowing it would involve promoting an individual who had been penalized for sexual harassment, after the company settled a claim by a former female subordinate.

The CEO decision by the board, as I wrote last week, is baffling — if you consider culture essential to the operating of a good business, and a significant appointment an opportunity to send a message regarding where a business wants to head next. I can only assume they thought the sexual harassment issue would go unnoticed.

They underestimated the women of AMP (and I’ve been told, some of the men too), who are demanding answers. They underestimated the fury of some of the shareholders and investors. They underestimated the determination of the Australian Financial Review to investigate the matter and keep the story on the front page.

So seeing David Murray quoted today as saying the board “in no way condones the behaviour involved” regarding the sexual harassment claim, you could be forgiven for thinking the board might be reconsidering their decision.

They’re not.

Rather the comment — issued by Murray to AMP staff on behalf of the board, and picked up by the AFR — noted that the promotion had been “unanimously supported and approved” by the board. They had also given it “extensive consideration.”

That board is male-dominated, with just two women out of eight at the table. It’s notably behind most of its peers on the ASX 50 that have gotten to at least a 30 per cent female board member rate.

The board said it has also “heard the wide-ranging views expressed internally”. But that appeared to be the end of the statement.

There have been further statements to staff from both their overall CEO Francesco De Ferrari and national CEO Alex Wade, noting a priority to “fast track” initiatives that are designed to address inclusion and the issues that have been raised over the past week. Like their board, they also noted there’s been a lot of listening going on.

The last time AMP did so much listening, it resulted in three female board members stepping down, as the then interim executive chair said shareholders were demanding “meaningful change” following the fallout from the banking royal commission.

This latest AMP Capital CEO appointment is just one among many appointments that occur every day: just another one of the individuals who get promoted, celebrated and rewarded, despite a history of sexual harassment or some other kind of behaviour that’s damaged others.

Most of these appointments will go unnoticed. They’re not always the big CEO of a division within an ASX 50 business, nor even a key executive leader. They could be a manager much further down the line, and within a much smaller business. They’re appointments that are happening in banks, in law firms, in restaurants, schools, supermarkets, factories, everywhere. And they’re usually happening in places where female staff members will never have a chance to “get heard” on how they’re feeling about the situation.

Sometimes, those making such appointments will also note that they don’t “condone” the previous behaviour of an individual getting promoted who is known to have affected the careers or lives of others. They agree such bad behaviour has no place in their business, and of course they wouldn’t do it themselves. They may commit to putting in some additional sexual harassment training and messaging, and possibly to hiring consultants to help with their diversity and inclusion. Maybe they’ll establish more targets for female promotions, or perhaps a mentoring or sponsorship program to elevate more women. Maybe they’ll make it easier for those needing to make future complaints, and commit to a ‘no tolerance’ policy in the future.

Yes, they will reject the past behaviour. But by making the appointment, they fail to address the issue.

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