It’s another case of, what the hell were they thinking? A large financial services company has managed to turn an attempted move towards diversity into a transphobic and sexist fiasco.
The Namibian-based JSE-listed Trustco recently advertised a vacancy on its all-male board, with the aim of securing women candidates. While this might be seen as a laudable move, the ad itself is bizarre and offensive.
It includes a large image of transgender Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner from her iconic 2015 Vanity Fair cover and photoshoot.
The ad’s headline reads: “Some will do anything to get a seat”; an attempted joke implying that Jenner transitioned to be able to apply for the Trustco position. This makes a mockery of transgender identity and experiences.
The position being advertised is listed as “broadmember”; another failed attempt at humour that inappropriately references women as ‘broads’. This hardly seems to be the tone that an advert promoting women’s empowerment in the workplace should take.
Astonishingly, the company goes on to say that it is looking for a woman boardmember “in the interests of equality and because women just look better in board pictures anyway…”
The candidates, the company says condescendingly, must be able to “stand your ground amongst the best of men…” And, with a final cringe-worthy pun, the ad states that if Namibians fail to apply for the position, Trustco will have no option other than to look “a broad”.
A similar ad was run in 2015 by the company, also featuring Caitlyn Jenner, but it’s the 2018 version that has come to light and is making waves. The ad has led to a furore on social media and, following complaints, Facebook removed it from its network.
It’s likely that the creators of the ad, almost certainly men, thought their work was hilarious, but it instead reflects the sexist and misogynistic reality many women face in the workplace.
A petition has now been set up demanding that Trustco retracts the ad and tenders a pubic apology and that high level management receives transformative gender training.
Unrepentant Trustco CEO Quinton van Rooyen has personally taken on the company’s critics on Facebook. He praised the “extremely successful ‘Broadmember-ad’” and slated the “unprecedented and unwarranted social and other media attacks”.
Facebook user Lizette Feris responded: “Quinton, will Namibian women get an apology from you and Trustco? That is an insult on the hard work women are doing to get fair and equal rights in the work place. Now you are playing victim! Do you know how many women are harassed and even sexually abused in the work place and you play victim calling women broads? Really it’s a new low even for Trustco.”
Earlier, in attempt to address the groundswell of criticism, Van Rooyen posted a video on his Facebook page affirming his company’s commitment to diversity and equality.
“I apologise that the gay-, lesbian-, homosexual- and transgender Namibians are, after 28 years of Independence, particularly excluded by an absence of laws that prevent marriage by same sex couples and deny them the most basic of human rights…” he says in the clip.
Van Rooyen then appears to take a jab at those who have condemned the company for the ad, stating: “I also apologise that the real plight of the community are further abused by self-appointed advocates who could not resist the temptation to abuse.”
In an article for Business Day, Stuart Theobald accused the company of “rank misogyny” and said that its last female financial director “lasted just four months”.
Theobald urged entities that have dealings with Trustco, including the World Bank and international shareholders, to take note of these concerns and help the company understand “the error or its ways”.
LGBT people in Namibia face discrimination, harassment and violence. Consensual “sodomy” is illegal and could be used to prosecute gay men, although this is not believed to have happened since the country’s independence in 1990.
A 2016 UN Human Rights Committee report urged Namibia to adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in the Labour Act, and adopt hate crime legislation punishing homophobic and transphobic violence.