Successful women making a mess in public are at risk of making (some) blokes look good

This past week has not been a glorious one for powerful women in the public eye…

Christine Holgate, Helen Coonan and Gladys Berejiklian (Images: AAP)Which part of the word public do these women not get?

Public office Gladys. Public service Christine. Public company Helen.

They all come with different duties, responsibilities, and God forbid, accountability, than is often expected in unlisted companies.

In the private sector it’s no problem to spend hundreds of thousands on pot plants and chauffeurs during an economic crisis: you don’t have pesky shareholders to which you must answer, while you can ignore government regulations, media investigations and corruption allegations.

Actually, not so much.

This past week has not been a glorious one for some high-profile women who are making a mockery of the myth that putting females in power will universally lift overall the standards of everything from boards to politics.

In these cases they are in danger of behaving just as badly as of the worst of the blokes. They are looking every bit as greedy and desperate to hang onto their titles and perks; the word “governance” is just a nice piece of corporate jargon, apparently.

Let’s start with the latest scandal du jour.

Almost former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate’s list of alleged atrocities is long. Cutting back postal services while crying poor in the pandemic, then asking low-paid workers to use their own vehicles on their own time to help the backlog. Cosying up to Pauline Hanson. Spending $700,000 on office greenery and some $300,000 on her own personal expenses including chauffeur-driven cars.

She racked up that litany of bad press in only a few months.

And last month there was the embarrassing media interview where she tried to ignore government advice against paying executive bonuses this year. She was quickly overruled.

Learning nothing, she fronted Senate estimates yesterday with the bizarre and totally incorrect defence that she wasn’t wasting taxpayers’ money when handing out Cartier watches to select managers.

What takes the cake is not the Marie Antoinette flourishes, nor her seeming inability to grasp the basics of the ownership of the entity she leads. Nor is it her ability to prompt swift action from a PM who usually can’t recognise the word accountability and only then after months of pressure.

What is incredible is that she makes her arrogant, overpaid predecessor Ahmed Fahour look good.

When it was finally revealed in 2017 that the former NAB banker was being paid a secret $5.6 million salary, Fahour became a pariah in Canberra and with the rest of Australia.

So when Holgate, the former Blackmores chief, was appointed to replace him on a much reduced salary of “only” $2.5 million, she was hailed for that as well as being the first woman CEO.

Normally Holgate’s train-wreck appearance before the Senate this week would win the Tone Deaf award, but she has some stiff competition from Crown chair Helen Coonan.

There were numerous damaging admissions to the NSW casino licence inquiry this week, best summed up with one of her many excuses for failure: it was only “ineptitude”.

Thank goodness — at least it wasn’t wilful negligence or criminal incompetence then.

Yesterday saw three Crown directors voted back onto the board thanks to the support of discredited major shareholder James Packer who even himself conceded during the inquiry that they could do with some new blood. As did Coonan, but apparently just not when the other shareholders might think it’s time.

No wonder Gladys Berejiklian is still playing the female card. Thanks to Holgate and Coonan, she managed to not look the worst woman in the news this week. Just.

About the Author

Janine Perrett

Janine Perrett is a journalist, broadcaster and commentator on business and politics. She has four decades of experience working in newspapers, radio and TV, here and in the US.

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