Banks: it's not just the customers who are being hurt
Australian banks don’t just treat their customers like rubbish. They also treat their staff with contempt.
This week’s horrifying story of the way ANZ treated its former vice president corporate foreign exchange Enilolobo Malika Oyo when she brought a $AUD10.79 million claim against the bank for sexual and racial harassment is nothing short of disgraceful. She was asked about the rape she’d experienced as a teenager. She was asked to provide her gynaecological records.
There is only one reason to ask those questions. It’s to frighten her.
Former senior trader Malika Oyo was vice-president of Corporate FX Sales at ANZ’s New York office.
As she wrote in an open letter to the ANZ Board this week: “There was no legitimate reason for a complete stranger to ask me detailed questions about the fact that I was sexually assaulted . . . the only conceivable reason for this line of questioning was to intimidate me in the hopes that I would back off of my claims . . . to make matters worse, three senior ANZ employees, including the Head of Talent and Culture, sat by and said nothing while this was going on.”
Three people from the bank sat there and said nothing. Nothing. Has anyone disciplined them for standing by and doing nothing?
Now ANZ could lead the way to show it is truly serious about changing its culture. The best possible action its CEO Shayne Elliott could take today is to settle the case with Oyo. Although he has apologised to Oyo (only on Twitter as far as I know) and said nothing from that line of inquiry would make its way into the case, there is no way this case can ever be anything other than a stain on the reputation of the bank, at a time when it is being hauled through the Royal Commission. Show some leadership, David Gonski, if your CEO can’t.
Of course Oyo is not alone. We hear story after story of senior women in banking subject to terrible harassment claims – and they are the ones who have the social and cultural capital to be able to take their claims to court. The Finance Sector Union says even at a junior level, when it comes to sexual harassment claims, the banks back bosses and not workers. Often they don’t have enough evidence and they just walk away
The FSU’s national secretary Julia Angrisano, says: “But when you do have the evidence and it is a more senior male manager, the banks rally around those managers and look for ways to protect them. They are not held to account, they resign quietly, quickly and with some money.”
Sexual harassment happens to individuals, but it’s the culture that permits it. Academic at the University of Technology Sydney Karen O’Connell, a long-standing researcher in this area, says it’s a way of silencing women at work, of forcing compliance and passivity.
“The demeaning of women, preventing them from speaking and acting with the authority of their profession is the harm,” she says.
“When a woman brings a case of sexual harassment, it can be a conduit for women not to be believed.”
She says in Oyo’s case, the questioning is clearly trying to undermine the professional authority of the former ANZ banker.
“It's disempowering and deauthorising and you can see it with the line of questioning in this case.”
Then O’Connell reminds me of case after case where complainants are humiliated in court; cross-examined by video link by accused rapists; paid much less compensation than men in equivalent cases. The message? Don't complain or you’ll get what's coming to you.
Next month will see the release of Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s survey of sexual harassment at work and for the first time it will include industry-specific data. I can only imagine what it looks like in the financial sector.
I’m sure ANZ is ashamed of this case. And it should be. It’s treatment of Oyo can only add to her hurt and injury– but it further tarnishes a reputation that has already been degraded. If ANZ wants to immediately improve that, it must do more than apologise on Twitter. You can’t have a supportive workplace culture when you deal with women this way. As Larissa Andelman, acting president of the Women Lawyers Association in NSW, says, any global entity needs to be mindful of the international differentiation in the manner with which courts deal with sexual harassment claims.
“It is right ANZ has identified its error however what would be of use now is to review their policies and practices as to sexual harassment.” And that includes having a long hard look at culture, leadership and governance
It’s not just a harm to Ms Oyo but a way of warning women off ever complaining.
I have no view about the facts of Oyo’s complaint; but she has certainly experienced sexual harassment now. As O’Connell pointed out, this was the kind of questioning that was prevalent in such cases in the seventies and eighties and Australia has moved well beyond that. It plays into ugly gendered myths about women at work.
It makes ANZ complicit in sexual harassment. It’s time for far more than apologies.
Jenna Price is a Canberra Times columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.
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