Friday 18 October 2019

Dearbhail McDonald: Absence of women fuelled Gordon Gekko 'greed is good' culture

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street
Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street".
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

THERE is something missing from the Anglo Tapes in all their tawdry, almost satirical glory. That missing something is women.

One woman does in fact feature in the tapes we've heard so far – the voice of a female receptionist at Anglo politely connects one Master of the Universe to another.

Even in the depths of our outrage, we all must, I suppose, apply some margin of appreciation for the coarse language and gallows humour deployed by senior executives at Anglo as the bank went bust.

Who knows how embarrassed we would be to have a private conversation played out in the public arena?

Who knows what swear words you or I might utter if we were about to cost the country €34bn?

And, boyz will be boyz...

But there are limits to that mitigation.

And the machismo, grotesque language and the gut-wrenching sniggering of former Anglo chief executive David Drumm and his testosterone-fuelled brethren towards regulators and their fellow citizens – and ultimately our funders – as the economy teetered on the brink is beyond words.

And beneath contempt.

The voluminous catchphrases, invariably with "f***ing" as a prefix – including classics such as "get the f***in' money in", "a great buzz in the dealing room", "jack the rates up" and "skin in the game" are embarrassingly frat-boy.

And some of Anglo's in-house vernacular such as "so f***in what, just take it anyway" or "a great day but we lost a bill" – as in a billion euro lost in a single day – would be downright comical if it weren't so f***ing (as Drumm might say) tragic.

Throughout their careers, some women (me included) have been quietly advised to "man up" in order to get ahead – more cortisol, less oestrogen for that winner effect.

Most women, who have no need or want to play the gender card, shun the advice.

But others stay schtum or quietly seek other employment options rather than undergo a personality transplant to fit into a male-dominated culture they find reckless, abusive or oppressive.

In the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of performing in Ireland and abroad – Paris was our last stop – with the 'Four Savvy Women'.

Presented by RTE's Mary Wilson and produced by Marian Richardson, the "sassy, savvy women" survey the wreckage of the boom and the carnage of the bust during a live stage performance.

With tongues firmly planted in cheeks, we often ask the question: what if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?

When the laughter from the usually mostly male audience subsides, we ask – as women – whether we would have exercised more restraint; brought about a different tone, encouraged less risk taking?

Would the female influence have diluted the testosterone or challenged the rampant groupthink and aggressive masculinity that seemed to intensify as the crisis deepened?

In truth, no one really knows if things would have been any different if more women had been "in the room" during the crisis, but the gender imbalance is noteworthy.

But what is truly staggering about David Drumm's leadership, for want of a better word, is that he typified the 'Bonfire of the Vanities'-style hubris culture that prevailed at Anglo.

No doubt this sacrifice of sensibility at the altar of Gordon Gekko was present in many parts of the banking and financial services sector that formed a unique clinical population of cockiness during the Celtic Tiger years.

The behaviour of these alpha males is not necessarily typical of their gender.

But the consequences of their conduct have been gender blind: it has afflicted every man, woman and child in this country.

Irish Independent

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