Mr Aitken left brokers Bell Potter last week, in the wake of his stark criticism in a memo of the appointment of Michelle Jablko as ANZ’s chief financial officer, which led to Paul Edwards, ANZ’s general manager of corporate communications, accusing Aitken of sexism on social media.
A tumultuous Twitter stoush ensued, with a number of noted female business leaders now expressing disappointment that ANZ were so quick to makes gender the dominant issue.
Sue Cato, businesswoman and media analyst, argued that free speech must be respected.
“Democracy means people can share their views - good and bad," she said. “And while I think less social media brawling would lead to greater civility, if we are in leadership positions we must accept and expect scrutiny.
"Women can’t be a protected species. When commentary crosses the line it is the person making the comments that ultimately loses in the exchange."
Kristin Westlake, principal at PR firm Continuum Partners, also contributed to the debate, believing that ANZ’s Edwards made the wrong play in making gender the issue in Aitken’s criticism of Jablko.
“From a corporate affairs standpoint, is using social media to drag your institution into a very public and controversial court battle considered best practice? This will definitely be hashed and rehashed as a case study in the future and I'm not sure I would want a client of mine in that position."
“The original communication was certainly distasteful, but it was relatively ring-fenced – now the whole industry is gossiping about it, and while Twitter may have originally been on ANZ's side, private opinion on the street is very much divided.”
Another to comment was Diane Smith-Gander of Broadspectrum, who while pleased that gender issues were being publically addressed, regarded the ANZ controversy as a “storm in a tea cup” and blown out of proportion.
“The only positive to come out of the Aitkin note saga has been the debate on gender equity in the finance industry," she said. "The finance sector says they are focused on ensuring leadership appointments are equally available to women and that they are focusing on their gender pay gap. We look forward to seeing them achieve real change.”
Some of Australia’s leading businesswomen have rejected ANZ Banking Group’s use of the ‘gender card’ amid the social media furore that led to the departure of stockbroker Angus Aitken from Bell Potter.