Days of 'boozy, boys’ culture' are not over, says top businesswoman

Women in banking have long had to deal with a “boozy, boys' culture" and there is a lot of work to be done in achieving gender equality, says leading businesswoman Ann Sherry, who joins a number of females speaking out against corporate culture.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde on Thursday criticised the corporate structures that have held back womens’ advancement and led to financial recklessness.

On Thursday night Ms Sherry told a room full of the nation’s top chief executives and board directors at the Chief Executive Women annual dinner in Sydney that there was much work to be done on gender equity inside and outside of corporate Australia.

Businesswoman Ann Sherry says in her early years in banking women were given sex toys at Christmas and that these days of humiliation are not over.

Photo: Anthony Johnson

Ms Sherry, chairman of Carnival Australia, holds non-executive director roles with National Australia Bank, Sydney Airport and Rugby Australia.

She was formerly chief executive of Westpac NZ and the Bank of Melbourne. During her speech, Ms Sherry recalled how in her early years in banking, women were given sex toys at Christmas. “Supposedly this was a joke, but really it was about humiliation,” she said, without naming the offending bank.

“The behaviour of men in the dealing room was a metaphor for all that was wrong with corporate culture. We think this is extreme and those days have gone but sometimes we have to realise they haven’t, and we have to be vigilant.”

Harvey Weinstein, the 'oh shit' moment

Ms Sherry said the global #MeToo movement that arose from the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood was an “oh shit” moment for everyone to understand the extent of the sexual harassment and discrimination women face.

Harvey Weinstein’s alleged assaults on women unleashed an avalanche of protest against sexism, harassment and rape.

Photo: AP

Weinstein’s alleged assaults on women unleashed an avalanche of protest against sexism, harassment and rape, she said. It had created a platform from women everywhere to speak out.

“The men had no inkling of what the women had put up with to be successful,” she said. “That hadn’t been their experience as men.”

Stories of everyday sexism, being shut down during meetings and locked out of opportunities were now in the open. “It was a big ‘oh shit’ moment for all,” she said.

What if it was 'Lehman Sisters'?

Others have also questioned the pace of change. Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the global financial crisis, Ms Lagarde in a blog said the financial system was not “safe enough” and that had a woman been in charge of the investment bank, the whole crisis may have been averted.

“As I have said many times, if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today,” she said.

"If it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today," says IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Meanwhile, Australian Institute of Company Directors chairman Elizabeth Proust told Fairfax Media that the federal Liberal party needed to do more to boost women in its top ranks and stop criticising those who spoke out about the leadership turmoil.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop and Liberal MP Julia Banks are among those who have been criticised by some media commentators and men in their own party for speaking out, but Ms Proust said the criticism these women faced was not justified.

Federal MP Julia Banks has faced criticism for speaking out about the lack of women in the Liberal party and the difficulties she's faced.

Photo: Wayne Taylor/Fairfax Media

“Some of the comments that have been made in response to both [Bishop’s] and Julia Banks – ‘toughen up princess’ and the like - none of that would be tolerated in corporate Australia,” Ms Proust said.

“It’s not acceptable to say, 'that’s politics, get with the program'. These people are our political leaders and should talk and behave like it.”

Ms Proust said the Australian Greens and Labor Party were "far more reflective of the community than the Liberal Party" when it came to women's representation.

The Liberal Party could consider targets or quotas. In 2018, to have less than 25 per cent women MPs - as the Liberal Party had - was "very unusual".

Boards of Australia’s largest companies are drawing closer to achieving 30 per cent female representation by the end of 2018.  As at the end of August 2018, the AICD said women accounted for 28.5 per cent of ASX 200 boards, and boards with no women dropped to just three (ARB Corporation Limited, Tassal Group Limited and TPG Telecom Limited).

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