Pahari accuser let down by female colleagues

The former AMP employee who accused Boe Pahari of sexual harassment says she was let down by female employers at the firm who expected her to return to working under the man she accused.

In an address to the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), Julia Szlakowski, former AMP private equity specialist, said: “The same individuals who shamelessly touted AMP’s culture and encouraged me to join are 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”.

Szlakowski said when she interviewed with AMP, she asked about their corporate culture and was assured on their policies regarding AMP’s diversity inclusion policy, female staff retention, quality in compensation and how they accommodated working mothers.

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“I did my due diligence and thought I had found a firm I could grow with, a place where I could be safe… everyone now knows how deeply mistaken I was,” Szlakowski said.

“I never imagined that as an experienced and qualified professional in a company that holds the public’s trust, I would be treated no better than I was as a waitress in a restaurant.”

Pahari was appointed as AMP Capital chief executive last year, which AMP initially defended after the sexual harassment complaint became public, only for Pahari to step down as chief executive less than a week later.

Szlakowski said the aftermath of her going public with the incident was a lesson on corporate governance and how lack of proper corporate culture can destroy a company.

“When I was hired in 2016, AMP was one of the biggest financial institutions in the world, one of the top 20 companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), and one in four customers were an AMP customer,” Szlakowski said.

“Since 1 July, 2020, when news of my 2017 sexual harassment complaint broke, AMP shares fell approximately 40% or $2.8 billion in market capitalisation.

“Between July 2020 and March 2021, investors withdrew $9 billion in assets under management from AMP Capital.

“A number of pension funds withdrew hundreds of millions from AMP ethical investment options and a $5 billion property fund recently changed ownership, and there’s speculation two more funds will change hands.”

Szlakowski said the 172-year-old company was no longer in the ASX 50 and its market capitalisation continued to shrink.

“Over the past year dozens upon dozens of talented senior and junior staff have left, not to mention almost every single executive,” Szlakowski said.

“My harasser, however, is set to finally depart next month with a reported $50 million golden parachute.

“It should be painfully clear how a company’s toxic culture where sexual harassment is not treated with the dignity and urgency it requires can not only degrade – not only the survivors who report it – but an entire company’s global workforce and its underlying market value.”

Kate Jenkins, Australian Human Rights Commission sex discrimination commissioner, said employers needed to focus more on response rather than prevention when with sexual harassment.

“What we found is the key driver of sexual harassment is power disparity,” Jenkins said.

“The current system relies on victims complaining and whether they meant it or know it, that’s how employers are working – if they don’t get a complaint, they think they don’t have any sexual harassment.

“Where there were more women on boards, there was likely to be more discussion on the topic.”

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Unfortunately this is a too familiar story for many financial services companies. When in a junior role I made a complaint against my manager and was told I was too sensitive, I needed to lighten up. I was made fun of and told I was going to damage his marriage. I was told this by internal management and an external HR company all female. I eventually withdrew my complaint so the shunning and exclusion would stop - I could clear a room just by entering it, I was not invited to meetings as I was just too sensitive. I finally gave in and gave them the sentence they wanted that I must have misunderstood my manager standing in my room uninvited at a conference telling me he wanted to have sex with me while he hugged me, groaned and rubbed his hands all over me. I was the one sent for training on how to behave in the workplace. All this time I was required to continue to work closely with this person and report to them on a daily basis and in many one on one situations.

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