Margaret Sweeney, the former chief executive of Postbank and Aer Rianta, has blasted Ireland's culture of sexual harassment in the corporate workplace.
Speaking to an audience at Norah Casey's Irish Tatler Business Academy last week, the high-profile female boss criticized the wolf-whistling, groping and sexual propositions she saw women enduring from clients during her 15-year stint at KPMG, Ireland's leading tax and advisory company.
After becoming a director of KPMG, Sweeney moved to Dublin Airport, serving as deputy and acting chief executive of the semi-state. She was then picked to run Postbank, a joint venture between An Post and Belgian bank Fortis.
"When I joined KPMG there was about four women in the organisation in my year and I think there was about three women on a floor of about 100 people. Clients had literally never seen female auditors before."
Sweeney said the harassment took place when she went to visit the clients assigned to her, the Irish Independent reports.
"I remember going down to a cigarette factory on the South Circular Road. They had a factory floor – and I remember having to go down to the order room and all you would get was wolf-whistles as you would walk through the floor.
"I remember another factory plant that made toilets and there was a production manager there who decided to sit on my lap.
"He used to go around groping the girls. The girls in the office used to say to me, the photocopier was behind a door, and they said 'don't stand behind the door because your man comes down and squeezes you up against the wall'. So I'd have to put the lid up on the machine, close the cover, press the button and hop out quickly.
"Then there was the year of the really bad snow and we had to report for a deadline in the UK, so we had to stay on in the Arklow Bay Hotel and the only other people staying there were ESB men fixing power lines that had gone down. And this manager was staying in the hotel and he used to go around telling the girls 'I'm sterile, I'm safe' and I just thought 'oh my God'. So every time he'd say this to me I'd wonder: 'How am I going to get out of this?'"
Sweeney said she was reluctant to stand up to him because she felt it conflicted with the ethos of the accountancy firm.
"We were really indoctrinated in KPMG about being very professional and I was very diligent and conscious of this at all times. I was afraid to say anything to him until one day he sat on my lap. So I said to him 'would you ever get the f*** off.'"
Said publisher Norah Casey, who coordinated the event and chaired the panel discussion: "Now that's how to get on in life. Thank God you did and that you were brave enough to do it."
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