Masters of the true perverse

Macquarie Bank is a delinquent organisation. On the evidence of this week, it is a company absent of moral decency, a company whose success is matched only by its perversion.

It is as if the greed there feeds on the worst misogyny. The caricature of privilege would be pathetic if it were not so systemic, if Macquarie were not just a bloated example of a profession, a whole system, in crisis.

In a complaint to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission this week, the bank is described as a “workplace defined by behaviour such as rampant drug taking leading to reckless trading after lunches”. The letter refers to “sexist and chauvinistic behaviour” and describes “predatory behaviour towards a female staff member” for which an adviser was not sacked “because of the amount of commission the adviser earned”.

Reports emerged this week of a trader stalking a female colleague. The company was apparently aware of this, although he was not disciplined. Three years later he cut off an assistant’s ponytail with a pair of scissors and placed it on the desk in front of her. Other staff watched on.

Another former employee said the company did nothing to defend her against a colleague who tried to force himself on her at an office party. He later pinned her to a wall outside a toilet and accused her of ruining his reputation. He told her she deserved to die.

Other staff spread rumours that she performed oral sex to advance her career, that she cheated on her boyfriend and wanted to have sex with the clients for whom she had responsibility. When she complained, she says she was told to wear less make-up.

“I had my dress lifted up by a senior male director – I was groped, slapped and asked for sex,” she said. “I was sent late-night texts for weeks after someone circulated my personal number, and had to endure more comments about my arse and pussy than anyone should ever have to hear.”

There were reports of the upskirting of female staff and the circulation of photographs of their breasts. A boss is said to have grabbed an assistant and bounced her on his knee against her will. Another is said to have told a colleague she had “great tits”. Another, that a colleague was “voluptuous”.

This is the reality of the finance sector. These are the indulgences of profit. The choice to abuse those in the room with less power, to treat women as objects and toys, is about a larger expectation that there will be no accountability. This is an industry that operates without consequences. The victims of this are not just working as office assistants – they are working in every sector, in every job that faces up to inequality.

In 2008, the bars on Australia Square filled with traders who had been made redundant by Macquarie. They complained they were buying their own drinks.

A week earlier, barmaids at their Christmas party on Cockatoo Island had served them shots out of water pistols. The event had cost $500,000. “I was a Master of the Universe,” a 25-year-old from the finance division said, “and they didn’t even use lube.”

These were the thin letter days of the global financial crisis. The excesses of that party were a neat counterpoint. “This is no earth tremor, it’s an earthquake,” a senior infrastructure analyst said. “It’s fucked. It just came out of nowhere.”

And another: “They’re meant to be the Millionaires’ Factory. I’ve sold my life there for 15 years. Tomorrow I’ve got no money, no Christmas presents. They had me working 80 hours a week and I’ve got nothing now.”

At some point, it can no longer hold that the money creates the behaviour. This is not just a byproduct. At some point an industry becomes so poisonous that it attracts people who wish to make themselves in the image of that poison.

The traders on Australia Square lived without irony. Excess was their self-image. They had read Tom Wolfe and seen not a satire but a manual.

There is a test now for both ASIC and the government. It is not enough to simply investigate the letter they have received. The entire sector needs reform. It is broken and men in it are broken, too.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 9, 2017 as "Masters of the true perverse".

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