Sydney Morning Herald

Amber Harrison may be left bankrupt, but the boys’ club is always all right in the end

Clementine Ford

  • Clementine Ford

Harrison’s affair with Seven West Media boss, Tim Worner, led first to her dismissal and then to a costly legal battle after she broke a confidentiality agreement brokered with the media company.

Amber Harrison ordered to pay legal costs

The latest findings are not just a personal blow for Harrison – they’re also likely to leave her bankrupt.

But while Harrison is out of a job, Worner has continued in his role as CEO of Seven West. He might have been a bit embarrassed and chastened, but the boys’ club he works in has done its job of standing by him.

The ruling coincides with news out of the AFL that two senior executives have resigned after it was discovered they were having separate affairs with younger female colleagues.

Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss tendered their resignations late last week after their involvement with the two female colleagues came to light. The pair were said to be having “inappropriate relationships with younger women in the industry” – specifically, an AFL Auskick staffer, Maddi Blomberg, and an AFL legal staffer, Ali Gronow.

Both Lethlean and Simkiss are married, with Lethlean saying of his resignation: “As a husband and a leader of this organisation it is up to me to set the example. What I did was wrong.”

If people are going to have affairs, they should at least have the decency to keep those affairs out of sight and out of public knowledge. One can’t help but feel mortified for the partners of Simkiss, Lethlean and Blomberg.

The situation is being treated as grave by an organisation that frequently comes under fire for its poor treatment of women, particularly where some of its players are concerned.

Simon Lethlean: "As a husband and a leader of this organisation it is up to me to set the example. What I did was wrong."Simon Lethlean: “As a husband and a leader of this organisation it is up to me to set the example. What I did was wrong.”

 

So determined is chief Gillon McLachlan to address these pressing matters that the league has involved the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, in upgrading its respect and responsibility policy.

But can consensual relationships – even if they occur on the sly and outside of established marriages or partnerships – really be considered reflective of an organisation’s culture of sexism?

There’s no doubt the AFL has a lot of ground to make up in regards to overturning the entrenched sexism that has accompanied it since its inception, but I’m with Gay Alcorn on this: it isn’t blanket sexism to have a mutually agreeable and consenting workplace affair.

But it is both massively silly and a uniformly bad idea for women, particularly the young women who are almost always workplace subordinates to the men in question.

As Harrison’s circumstances have demonstrated, women in these situations rarely come out unscathed, even in circumstances where, as with Lethlean and Simkiss, there appears to be some kind of ramifications for their partners in flagrante. Once exposed, these women are treated as either dangerous temptresses or silly ingenues.

Either way, they pose a potential threat to a man’s power – and while the boys’ club may be adept at closing ranks to protect one of their own, it prefers to pretend such protection is a myth.

As long as workplaces that trade in big business or politics continue to be dominated by men, this will remain the case.

Even when senior male executives are moved on, it’s not uncommon for it to be to much better prospects.

Remember Kirsty Fraser-Kirk, the former David Jones employee who brought a claim of sexual harassment against David Jones’ CEO, Mark McInnes? That wasn’t an affair, but a straight-up case of illegal and predatory workplace activity, but McInnes seemed to barely bend in the howl of wind directed his way by Fraser-Kirk and the justice system.

Yes, he lost his job as CEO of David Jones (and there’s no question he deserved to), but he was hardly left out of pocket. He now works for Premier Investments on a multimillion-dollar annual contract that also happens to be far more lucrative than his previous one.

But the biggest example of loss of prospects and pride following a workplace affair continues to be held by Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose relationship with the most powerful man in the world left her a scandalised, untouchable potential employee and him still President Bill Clinton.

Lewinsky was barely an adult when Clinton pursued a relationship with her, but the devastating impact of the affair has remained with her today. Essentially unemployable following its exposure, she also had to deal with cruel taunts about her appearance and credibility. Why would the President of the United States be attracted to someone with those teeth, that face, that body? Liar.

No, workplace affairs do not end well for women. Because these women are just supposed to be titillating distractions and fancies. They aren’t supposed to threaten the stability of a man’s family (and never forget that men’s financial prospects increase when they have families, while women’s decrease) or his reputation. And when they do, these women are marked forever as dangerous.

It will be interesting to see what consequences will arise for Blomberg and Gronow. Lethlean and Simkiss will undoubtedly move on, with little to no real impact on their careers. Perhaps it’s because the men hiring them will view them with sympathy, rather than lust and/or fear. Could’ve happened to any red-blooded man. Gotta be careful with all these sheilas walking the halls these days.

For now, the AFL continues its mission to clean up its image, and maybe even its act. If McLachlan can achieve that, it truly will be an affair to remember.”