These questions stem from an announcement last Friday that Mark McInnes, who resigned his $6 million a year job as CEO of David Jones due to a sexual harassment case against him, has been appointed CEO of the retail devision of Premier Investments, the company that owns the Just Group, who in turn employs me. Upon his resignation he declared that he had behaved in a way unbecoming of a chief executive - preempting claims from Kristy Frazer-Kirk, a junior publicist, of sexual harassment.
It hasn’t been very long that Mr McInnes has been out of action, perhaps seven months. His behaviour while working for David Jones was nothing short of criminal. He himself admitted he had behaved inappropriately, and that he had ‘made an error of judgement’ in his dealings with Ms Frazer-Kirk. Um, you think?! I realise he isn’t alone and that in the male dominated world of business, sexual harassment complaints are a huge problem. Since July 2010, they have accounted for one third of all complaints to the Human Rights Commission under the Sexual Discrimination Act - a 50% increase since 2009.
So for a nation that seems so proud to boast gender equality - have we really got that far? Women still, on average, earn 17% less than their male counterparts, they’re subjected to sexual harassment in the workforce, and as the recent case with Woodside demonstrates, are often punished in their career for having children.
The Just Group owns seven brands: Smiggle, Jacqui E, Just Jeans, Jay Jay, Portmans, Dotti and Peter Alexander. All seven of these brands primarily angle to female consumers. The company employs somewhere around 6000 people in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and a staggering 92% of these employees are women. Yet on its board of directors there are no women. Not one. So a company that makes all its money (about $30 million in profits a year) selling to women and employs 92% women is run by men. How’s that for illogical? It’s parent company, Premier Investments, is no better. Again, not one woman sits on its board. In fact, you have to search a long way down the hierarchy of power within the Just Group to find any women - the most senior being Rachel Kelly, Retail Director, who is one of three women in senior management, all appointed within the last 12 months.
So despite there already being a clear concern in regards to the status of women within the Just Group, the appointment of a known perpetrator of sexual harassment as CEO of Retail still came to me, a female employee of this company, as a huge surprise. I have been working as a sales assistant for the Just Group for 2 and a half years and have found the company to be a safe, supported working environment - this move seems to me as one purely made in the efforts of resurrecting a struggle retail division with little to no regard for the welfare of the staff involved.
The Just Group Integrity Code says:
“The Just Group is committed to developing a workplace in which all employees are able to reach their potential. It will not condone behaviour or actions that bully, intimidate, discriminate or harass, and will ensure all employees understand performance expectations in this area. Aspects of this commitment and expectation are detailed in the Company’s Equal Opportunity Policy.”
But isn’t the appointment of a disgraced businessman condoning his behaviour? To me, it says that it’s ok if you behave in the way Mr McInnes has because even if you have to resign from your current job, another one will come your way soon enough. It says that his behaviour, while unacceptable at David Jones, is ok at the Just Group.
For a company who proclaims on its website that its goal is to become an ‘envied, spectacular employer’ and who claims to ‘value and respect’ their ‘spectacular people’, they seem to be hugely concerned with success and profits - at the risk of the welfare of their staff. Business first, people second.
I am incredibly disheartened at this decision on the behalf Premier Investments, but at the end of the day I am one employee of thousands and I am easily replaced. I look forward to seeing how the company addresses my concerns, but don’t hold my breath for any groundbreaking action. I can only hope more people in my situation speak out for what they believe in, and question things within the company that don’t seem right.