(Image: Unsplash/Hunters Race)

As the sexual harassment spotlight now turns to the corporate sector, it’s clear some business “leaders” are just paying lip service to the issue.

Take for example those self-righteous bastions of workplace gender equality, Male Champions of Change (MCC).

The awfully-named but ostensibly worthy group was designed to use powerful male leaders, backed by aspiring female ones, to help promote and protect women in the workplace.

It’s seen as a great PR exercise for the blokes, who are trotted out to make serious noises in the media about everything from gender pay gaps to sexual harassment.

But when it comes to anything controversial or sensitive which might involve actually criticising each other (or the government) then they are noticeably absent from the debate.

No better example than this week’s revelations in The Australian Financial Review that the new head of AMP Capital Bodhisattwa “Boe” Pahari had been disciplined by the company after sexual harassment allegations in 2017 and then promoted anyway.

The furore was all the more embarrassing as Pahari’s immediate predecessor as CEO of AMP Capital was Adam Tindall, who was also a Male Champion of Change.

But MCC, usually so desperate to get publicity for their efforts, refused to comment on the story because “AMP Capital is a group member”.

“We don’t comment on issues related to individual member organisations,” a director at Male Champions of Change told the AFR.

And therein lies the basic gutlessness of those blokes and female enablers who so keenly champion the champions except when it actually affects them.

Since its inception in 2010 it has managed to avoid any specific sexual harassment controversies, from the Mark McInnes David Jones scandal to the Amber Harrison Tim Worner one.

Though to be fair, so has the Business Council of Australia and countless other business leadership groups including those representing women.

As ageing, formerly sexist directors belatedly discover the virtues of females on boards just when they want to stay relevant and on boards themselves, their new wokeness has bounds.

I learnt early on just how weak the MCC was at yet another of their self-serving media events soon after new prime minister Tony Abbott announced his nearly all-male cabinet in 2013.

A report at the time described the 31 leading male executives and CEOs who “came out with a strong call for the advancement of women”.

“Calling themselves Male Champions of Change they turned up in force at a forum in Sydney where they launched a very public campaign for change to lift the number of senior women in their own ranks and put pressure” on others to do the same.

Yet the assembled male power figures (or “alpha males” as they were breathlessly described in the report) were all far too timid to dare publicly criticise the PM for doing exactly what they were there to champion.

It should be noted the group also included representatives from government departments including the office of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It’s no wonder the MCC has so many members with some 230 groups now in the MCC “coalition”.

It’s not just virtue signalling; no self-respecting company can afford not to be a member. If you are a member you presumably get immunity.

Protecting women in the workplace — more like a protection racket for the usual suspects.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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