From locker room to 'broadroom', sexist drivel backfires
In its charge across the line of acceptable behaviour, this JSE-listed firm put on a display of male fragility
Sometimes a company does something so stupefyingly outrageous that at first you cannot believe it is true. You check it’s not a smear campaign, a malevolent party trying to make it look like the company did it. Then you check it’s not an employee gone rogue, shortly to be reined in and disciplined.
Namibian diversified financial services business Trustco, which is listed on the JSE, charged across the line of acceptable behaviour so severely last week, all the checks had to be done. But it was true: Trustco published the most awfully sexist drivel I have ever seen. And it was enthusiastically endorsed by its CEO.
The board, currently all-male, needs a woman to join it. Not because it is embarrassing for any board to be exclusively male, or because companies should reflect the diversity of societies they operate in, or because companies with women in leadership perform better than those without. Some uppity Namibian lawmakers are agitating for companies to have more woman board members.So Trustco published an advert on social media calling for a “broadmember”. You can easily find it with a Google search even though Facebook pulled it down for violating its terms.
The “broad” Trustco has in mind is not range of competencies, but the offensive term for a woman (some male creative no doubt impressed himself with his deft use of double entendre).
The witticisms don’t stop there.
Across the top of the ad is the headline “Some will do anything to get a seat” over a picture of transgender campaigner Caitlyn Jenner, borrowed (without permission, I imagine) from a 2015 Vanity Fair cover shoot. There’s some astounding transphobia in the suggestion that changing gender is to satisfy male desire. Plus some thinly concealed sexual coercion implied by “doing anything” to get a job from a man.
It gets worse.“Trustco is an equal-opportunity employer and in the interest of equality, and because women just look better in board pictures anyway, we would love to see our board seat going to a deserving lady.”Businesswomen are unfortunately used to being commented on for their looks rather than their abilities, but it’s not often you find a company overtly and explicitly recruiting women for a senior position on that basis. Usually masculine fragility at the idea of talented women leaders is kept hidden in the locker room. But Trustco’s masculine fragility has been painted across its social media.
Still, it gets worse: “If you are broadminded, energetic, business-driven, can stand your ground amongst the best of men AND have experience sitting in a hot seat ... ”
There is something rather revealing in the Trustco board’s self-image of being “the best of men”. The company sounds like it is led by a schoolboy sports team fantasising it is in the cast of Top Gun. To tell people you are “the best of men” comes across as, well, fragile. And as for the “hot seat” ... the less said the better.
“Namibian broads [hehe, that one again] are encouraged to apply, otherwise we will have no other option but to look ‘a broad’.” And just in case all this display of male fragility upsets men out there, the ad concludes with a footnote: “Yes of course men are also welcome to apply.”The ad was gleefully endorsed by CEO Quinton van Rooyen on Facebook where he commented: “Brilliant add [sic] Team Trustco!” When Facebook pulled the ad down after complaints, he published a two-page letter thanking the “silent majority” who did not comment negatively. That’s like Jacob Zuma thanking the millions who stayed at home rather than protest against corruption.
The following day Van Rooyen published a mostly unintelligible “apology” that made no mention of the ad, and in which he seemed to suggest he was a victim of “self-appointed advocates” who were “abusing” him.
A company with this level of rank misogyny is going to have other problems. Parsing the annual report suggests a few.
It is on its third financial director in a year, one of whom was a woman who lasted just four months. That level of turnover of financial directors is a red flag.The company had an effective tax rate of just 9%, which suggests some aggressive tax planning. Of its profit of 581-million Namibian dollars last year, $225-million came from fair value gains rather than operating income, suggesting low-quality earnings.
The business consists of a bewildering array of assets, from a mine in Sierra Leone to a bank in Namibia. Among its divisions is a fleet of private jets. It provides no breakdown of the performance of this fleet, but were I a shareholder I would worry such boys’ toys were more about the board’s fragile masculinity than return on investment.The seven-man board includes Van Rooyen’s 31-year-old son, also Quinton, with the Trustco annual report listing among his awards his 42nd place in the “International Reebok CrossFit Games”. The backslapping in the boardroom must be epic.
The company has relationships with serious businesses. It has had funding from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, which often champions empowerment of women in business. It has international shareholders, including South African Sean Riskowitz, now a star New York-based hedge fund manager. Pershing LLC, long an advocate of women’s empowerment, administers those shares.
If Trustco cannot see the error of its ways, I hope these entities do.