AMP is a giant in the financial services industry, which should entail that the organization implements, and regulates, strict workplace sexual harassment and discrimination policies. It is expected that such an enormous company with expansive revenue and resources would have done its best to stamp out all inappropriate workplace behaviors – if not for the sake of the sexually harassed staff, at least for their own reputation. But this was not the case.
In 2017, Julia Szlkowski lodged a sexual harassment complaint against AMP, regarding the conduct of her boss, Mr. Boe Pahari, who was over 20 years older than her. The conduct of Mr Pahari was initially seemingly innocuous – starting with comments about her leaving work functions too early and asking about her dating history. Eventually, Mr Pahari flew Ms. Szlkowski to London for a company meeting, from which point his behavior escalated to unwanted preferential treatment, such as inviting her to private dinners, offering to buy her clothes, and insisting on extending her stay in London.
As a result of the complaint, Mr. Pahari was penalized by a 25% reduction in his annual bonus, which astoundingly equated to $500,000. Mr. Pahari was also required to apologize to Ms. Szlkowski.
Nevertheless, this action is not enough and more needs to be done to ensure justice for sexual harassment claims. There has been recent outrage in August 2020 when AMP announced that Mr. Pahari was to receive a promotion.
The example of AMP illustrates that more needs to be done to achieve justice for sexual harassment. It is true that victims may feel disempowered by companies’ stagnant policies and reluctance to overturn perpetuated sexist cultures. However, it is only through greater momentum and more women speaking out that companies are pressured to finally change their ways for good.
In the wake of the Me Too movement, women have finally sought the courage to challenge perpetuated sexual harassment in the workplace, no matter the size of the organization. Challenging a multi-billion dollar company sounds like a David-and-Goliath type situation, but it does not have to be. Any comment, gesture, conduct or invitation that sounds inappropriate for the workplace may be sexual harassment, and victims have every right to stand up for themselves.
Sexual harassment does not have to consist of a pattern of behavior, but most often it does, usually increasing in severity and inappropriateness as the perpetrator perceives the victim to be more pliant to their sexual advances.
It is not surprising that usually the perpetrators of sexual harassment are those in a position of power and authority, such as Mr. Pahari was. It may seem harder to challenge figures in charge, but it is that intimidation and fear that gives the perpetrators their power – they know that their victims will be too afraid to speak out. However, the example of Ms. Szlkowski is a testament to the power of standing up for injustice, even though AMP still has a lot to answer for regarding their management of her complaint. At the very least, Ms. Szlkowski has made the inappropriate conduct known and has contributed to stamping out workplace sexual harassment.
Although the Me Too movement has been in motion for some time now, there’s still much work to be done in eradicating workplace sexual harassment entirely. However, with each complaint lodged and each woman that has the courage to speak out, we as a society can come closer to achieving justice and parity between men and women in the workplace.
Culture does not change without the courage to start a movement.