why it will never end well


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There are some places in Australia where it’s easier to get away with having inappropriate relationships with junior colleagues than others. That’s not sport. And it’s not the public service.

There is just too much scrutiny. One, we love sport and expect more and better from those who play and from those who administer. And two, we examine the public service because it runs on public money. Publicly listed companies, such as Channel Seven, are now slightly out of the limelight since the skilful recasting of the image of Amber Harrison, on Monday ordered to pay Seven’s legal costs.

Border Force boss under investigation

Roman Quaedvlieg is on leave while an investigation is underway, reportedly into his personal behaviour, not professional duties.

Within a few days, two AFL executives have been forced to resign from jobs they loved because they couldn’t resist wielding their sexual power. A third looks to be on the way out, although he might be saved because he’s single. And Australian Border Force assistant commissioner Peter Docwra, once head of the capability division of the ABF, resigned after allegations regarding an inappropriate relationship. That’s on top of news that his boss and head of the ABF, Roman Quaedvlieg​, is on leave during an investigation into claims he helped a junior staff member with whom he had a relationship get a job.

These events have made news, and so they should – but don’t imagine these are isolated incidents, or they only happen in workplaces in the spotlight. It happens everywhere. In small business and in big; at organisations of all kinds.

It’s a complex business, mixing work and sex – and in at least some of these cases, the third element, the cheated parties, make that complex business a reputational disaster for the organisations that host the flings.

Maybe these workplace relationships are about sexual attraction. But they are also about power: those who have it and those who don’t. Over the years, we have become more tolerant of relationships in the workplace, particularly if they are between equals. Once we start work, our workplace is often the only place we might meet new people.

But it’s the relationships between unequals that have serious implications for those who work with them; and that’s about the potential for favouritism and for poor decision-making by those who have the power. And that’s if both parties are single – there is the added weight of judgment when either or both parties have other partners, be it permanent or temporary. All the research tells us it is the hierarchical nature of the majority of workplace romances that causes all the problems, because the power differential generates hostility.

Do the younger women have any culpability in these rotten scenarios? Well, yes, of course. But not really.

The older you get as a woman, the more you come to recognise your lack of power. Smart young women see it playing out before them, so it’s flattering to see your more powerful colleague take an interest in you. But it’s also important to see how poisonous this can be.

Take note of the representation of Amber Harrison, transformed from the one being wronged to the one in the wrong. And aside from the politics of the workplace, if you know someone has another partner, perhaps a deep breath might be in order before undoing or damaging that relationship. You know how you feel when someone cheats on you.

Big business doesn’t have the interests of women at its core, because women are not at the core of big business. We are disposable.

The evidence of the past few days is proof that some men are incapable of recognising their other relationships as they experience the heady spiral of power and sexual attraction. Once again, women will be forced to be the gatekeepers of moral probity.

Former AFL football operations general manager Simon Lethlean had only been in this powerful job a few months. He’d also overseen the brilliantly successful introduction of AFL Women’s. I can’t be more disappointed that he threw all that away. No sense. Absolutely no sense.

In his statement, he says he failed his wife, family, friends and “my organisation and football by making the decision I have. I have hurt the people who are most important in my life and who I love. They have done nothing to deserve this. I am deeply sorry for all the hurt and embarrassment I have caused”.

And, of course, very sorry to have been caught out.

Not sure who dobbed him in, but I’m glad they did. And if you are like Lethlean, be wary. People are watching. Always watching.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax Media columnist and academic at the University of Technology Sydney.

Twitter: @jennaprice

Facebook: facebook.com/jennapricejournalist


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