Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”; so said Lord Acton in 1887. Fast forward to the present day in Australia (and indeed the world), and it is undeniable that Lord Acton’s words so frequently ring true. Lord Acton’s prophetic words are indisputably encapsulated in author, lawyer, former politician and corporate business leader, Julia Banks’, memoir, “Power Play: Breaking through bias, barriers and boys’ clubs”.
According to Julia, power is interwoven in the very fabric of our society; “be it parliament or workplace, the school playground or the sporting arena”. Power, in all it’s forms, has a stronghold in the workplace, and is within the public and private sector equally. “It is in the corporate sector, the legal and medical professions, and in academia. It is in local councils and small to medium business. It is in sport, the arts and the media”.
Julia goes on to write that it is predominantly men holding this power. Women, in particular, face startling biases and prejudices in the workplace in modern Australia. These include not only gender discrimination, but roadblocks imparted on one’s career – as a woman – because of age, marital status, whether or not the woman has children, cultural background and race. Julia has come up against all these biases in her time in law firms in private practice, in the corporate sector, and as an MP for the Liberal Party (being elected in 2016).
Julia recounts the time that – as a young lawyer in private practice – she was required to attend court. The judge presiding kept her longer than necessary when she approached him, so that he could ‘leer’ at her (he later admitted this to a colleague, who told Julia). Julia also tells of having been spoken over at board meetings, having suggested a good idea and had it ignored and then had the idea be suggested by someone else and be accepted. Julia is not alone in being spoken over and interrupted at important times. In America in 2020, when Kamala Harris was the challenging VP, to the at the time VP Mick Pence, and they were having a presidential debate, Kamala Harris was underminingly interrupted by Mike Pence ten times.
It is of the political arena of federal parliament that Julia is most vehemently scathing in this book. Julia endured deeply rooted misogyny in her time in federal politics, as well as overt and subtle forms of bullying and essentially brutal tactics to undermine her achievements. These forms of abuse were further amplified when Julia made the decision to leave the Liberal Party in 2018, and run as an Independent. ‘Men in grey suits’ at the behest of, and even including the prime minister, according to Julia, bullied her in a myriad of ways, and even went so far as to attempt to discredit her. Julia says in the book, “The louder my voice got, the more attempts were made to silence me”.
Julia talks in general terms about the “abuse of power, when positional power is used to diminish people, undermine them, create fear, or impose silence”. If someone with Julia’s education, professional standing and self-confidence can be intimidated and subject to abuse in the workplace, it makes one fear for the treatment of all in the workplace; particularly those who find themselves on the lower rungs of the workplace hierarchical ladder.
The book “Power Play” is a must read for those in the workplace (no matter the profession or industry), from all walks of life. Julia Banks has written of a societal problem – of power in the workforce, and the scandalous abuse of it – and offers solutions of considerable thought and intellect.