Zero tolerance call on strip club visits

YOLANDA REDRUP
Last updated 12:00 01/08/2014
Angela Vithoulkas
Fairfax

ANGRY: "It's very 1980 ... but the concept of doing whatever it takes to make the client happy is completely misplaced in business culture now," says Angela Vithoulkas.

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Male executive trips to strip clubs are "misplaced" in business culture and are shutting out women from high level decisions, according to female business leaders.

Executive director of UN Women Australia, Julie McKay, said there needed to be a zero tolerance policy in businesses for any form of sexualised entertainment.

"Employers need to be really clear about this as it goes against everything we talk about in terms of gender equality," she said. "Bullying and harassment issues are rife with this type of entertainment."

VIVO Cafe Group director Angela Vithoulkas said the practice was "totally inappropriate" in the business setting.

"It's very 1980 ... but the concept of doing whatever it takes to make the client happy is completely misplaced in business culture now," she said.

"You get annoyed by some business practices, but this makes me angry."

But far from being confined to the 1980s, sexual harassment lawyer Michael Harmer said employers were paying between $1 million and $3.5 million to settle sexual harassment cases stemming from sexualised entertainment in the corporate environment.

He said he had dealt with cases in the legal, accounting, finance and property industries.

"It's across those sectors and is seen as part of doing business and I object to it," Harmer said.

But Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Yolanda Vega said the practice is likely to remain common.

"Men are men and women are women and we're sexual beings," she said.

"It's very tribal... it's more about the human needing to belong to a certain group, than a purposeful effort to exclude women."

Vega said females equally liked to belong to groups.

"Women are entertained by fashion and men are entertained by strippers. You can't tell the women to stop entertaining the men, that would take away the democratic right of those women," she said.

But Ogilvy PR chief executive Kieran Moore said if a staff member took a client to a strip club, it would be a sackable offence.

"At Ogilvy this would be deemed unprofessional and you'd be committing gross misconduct," she said.

Moore said throughout history businessmen had created "playgrounds" for themselves, including golf courses and men-only clubs, and strip clubs were just one example.

"There have always been playgrounds for men and this is just an extreme and tawdry example," she said.

"I'd like to think this practice is the last fling of a fading empire, but obviously some men haven't realised that the environment has changed."

A 2010 report by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women found business functions were often held in King Street strip clubs in Melbourne.

"They are promoted as socially acceptable for businessmen and corporations," the report said.

The first strip club opened in Victoria in 1992, and in the next two decades 20 licensed venues opened.

League of Extraordinary Women co-founder Liz Atkinson said the culture of males taking clients to strip clubs kept the "boys club" in companies.

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"It's really awkward for females and it generates a divide between men and women in businesses," she said.

"It shuts women out of these meetings ... it also stifled productivity because it separates what women and men are able to participate in."

For this culture to change, Atkinson said it needed to come from the top.

"A true leader, manager or executive should make sure what's happening in their business is kept in the professional realm," she said.

"Some clients will also feel that this behaviour is unprofessional and it can damage a business's reputation."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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