Since I decided not to engage with lunatics on the internet, my mood, and therefore my quality of life, has improved markedly.
I made the decision a while ago but it was confirmed when I read Lindy West’s explanation of why she’d decided to leave Twitter. For her, it turned out to be a huge waste of space, where the ignorant and the cruel played with her emotions and valuable time. Unlike West, I didn’t leave any social media platforms but I now engage very differently to how I engaged even a year ago. I don’t reply to the poorly conceived or to the badly brought up.
But a few weeks ago, I received an email in response to a column I wrote on women not being recognised in the Australian honours system. In the realm of rude emails, this one wasn’t so bad. No threats of violence. No use of words beginning with c. No use of the word “leftard” (awful for so many reasons).
It just had a message for me in the subject line. “Shocking whinger”. So not too bad really. Take it on the chin along with all the other bad behaviour.
This one was different though. What really attracted my attention was the email address. It showed the person was writing from a bank. Not just any bank: my bank, or one of them.
I have accounts with four banks, all for different purposes. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that saving money matters (deferred fun); superannuation matters (I won’t be in paid employment forever, despite what governments would like), getting your debt under control matters (read one and two) and banking with an institution that keeps its systems up to date also matters (how hard can it be to have an up-to-date transaction list?). So that’s how and why I have different accounts with different institutions.
After the first shock of seeing the familiar email address, I immediately thought I was being spoofed, where a sender devises an email to look as if it’s coming from a company, when it isn’t really,
So how to test whether I was being spoofed? I rang the bank. I asked for the name used on the email.
And the bank put me straight through.
I introduced myself nervously. I asked the man why he had sent an email without a coherent argument. Zero response. If this happened to me, I think the first thing to come out of my mouth would be an apology. There was no apology but a slight choking sound on the other end. I said goodbye. I rang the switch and asked to be put through to this man’s supervisor.
A few days later, I received a real apology from the institution from a very senior person at the bank. I appreciated that.
But I must say the response was slow. There was never any apology from the man who sent the email in the first place. And, in my view, there were only two reasons I ended up with any sort of an apology. One, I was a customer. Two, the bank management’s thought I’d write about it in a column and that the apology would dissuade me from doing that.
I said goodbye. I rang the switch and asked to be put through to this man’s supervisor.
But the longer it is since this incident – now a few weeks – the madder I am.
It’s an unusual person who doesn’t use their work emails for private business. Sharing links. Sending reminders. My workplace has a pretty solid code of conduct, which makes it clear what it expects of staff, whether they are online or offline.
University of Melbourne professor of labour law John Howe says most larger organisations have such a code of conduct and sometimes employees who don’t adhere to the code are disciplined. He reminds me of the technicolour case that involved the ANZ bank, dismissed employees, a lap-dancing bar, white powder, and “lewd and explicit emails”. He also says that, in many workplaces, there is little restriction on the use of work emails for private purposes so long as it’s not offensive.
And I’ve thought a lot about what action would have satisfied me. Did I really want someone sacked because they didn’t like a column I wrote?
No. That would be utterly ridiculous.
But one action would have made me feel as if the bank had really addressed my concerns: a written apology from the employee himself. I know he was subject to some kind of internal disciplinary action. And I know the man who apologised to me said that, at first, the man who’d written the email stubbornly defended his actions but was brought around when asked how he’d feel if his “own daughters got an email like that”.
And that’s the problem: a culture that says people should only behave well when there is a direct individual outcome.
I spent a few hours looking at the state of gender equity in the organisations with which I bank. It’s seriously depressing reading. Plenty of fine sentiment but not too many women in charge, although almost every organisation said “change is coming”.
Of course, that’s true of most Australian organisations, especially those in the for-profit sector. But there’s something about banking that makes respect even more important. We all need to bank. We don’t all need to involve ourselves with all the other companies with few women at the top.
There is no respect without equality and, in contemporary Australian banking, there is too little of that.
Jenna Price is a columnist for The Canberra Times and Daily Life and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.