SINGAPORE: One former financial broker knows at least two financial instrument brokers who play the "sex for contracts" game: They get into the sack with corporate clients even though they have more—than—generous expense accounts with which to woo these clients.
With each swap going for an average of tens of millions of dollars, the payouts are temptingly high for those who manage to clinch the trade, the 35—year—old told MediaCorp.
But with very little to differentiate the services of one brokerage from another, some women brokers resort to sleeping with traders who may then pay them bigger commissions if they are happy with the "service", he said, describing the practice as "rife" within the profession.
A professional in the IT industry, which also sees stiff competition for multi—million—dollar contracts, knows of at least one peer in her circle who has gone to such lengths — usually as part of her after—dinner entertainment for the client.
According to the 38—year—old, who has been in the IT line for about 15 years, a mix of lucrative incentives and the pressure to deliver makes for powerful motivation.
Another IT industry veteran, Mr H Lim, who has worked for the likes of Oracle and IBM, said the sales quotas at such multinationals are very aggressive.
"(Employees) need to meet the numbers and most IT procurers are male.
"Pressure is extremely high and you may get the boot if you don’t meet your numbers for two to three quarters.
"This drives some women to desperation," he said, adding that targets are usually in the double—digit millions of dollars per annum.
"It would be naive to think it is only the high—profile cases. It is happening daily — in the pharmaceutical industry, banking as well as IT ... it’s just a matter of not getting caught," he noted.
In this era of equal opportunity, and with ever more women working their way to success through knowledge, talent and hard work, instances of women sales professionals offering sex in exchange for a quick, sure—fire way of clinching deals have been thrust into the limelight.
Last week, former Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) chief Peter Lim was charged with 10 counts of corruption for allegedly obtaining sexual favours from three women — two vendors and one potential vendor.
In return, he would allegedly show favour to their companies in IT—related tenders called by the SCDF.
There is a certain irony to all this.
Executive Director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Corinna Lim points out that more such incidences may be occurring these days because modern women are getting into career roles that draw the big bucks.
Yet, this is ultimately "disempowering" for women.
"Ideologically, the using of sex to get ahead reinforces the idea that their greatest asset lies in the fact that they are desired by men.
"This perpetuates patriarchy as it makes women’s value dependent on how much men desire them... they do not have value in their own right," said Ms Lim.
Academics and women’s rights organisations that TODAY spoke to suggest various factors may be at play in determining the way some women in business behave.
Ms Lim, as well as sociology professor Teo You Yenn of the Nanyang Technological University, suggest taking a closer look at organisational cultures that influence how employees act.
In those with "masculine leadership cultures" and very few women at the top, "sexual predatory behaviour may be implicitly encouraged", Ms Lim added.
"Although the customer may not outright ask for sex in exchange for sealing the contract, there is still some element of sexual harassment, through implicit, subtle suggestions or hints from the customer that the sales representative may not get the deal if they do not offer sex.
"There is an imbalance of power between the two parties."
This is happening in industries where clients are mostly male.
A pharmaceuticals sales representative with 12 years’ experience said that in the cases she has heard of, doctors are bold in asking for sexual favours due to the strong competition that sales representatives face.
Ms Lim called for stronger sexual harassment laws, arguing that where it is the norm for transactions to be conducted in such a manner, the professional may find it difficult to lodge complaints.
But is it too simplistic to cast women in such transactions as naive or manipulated victims?
There is, after all, the fact that there are women in the same lines who choose not to exchange sexual favours for a contract. Or who decide to leave the industry altogether. Personal greed, and perhaps also the extent of one’s ambition, factor into a woman’s choice, some point out.
Their actions earn some detractors’ scorn. In a day and age when women advocates and business leaders are calling for more female participation on corporate boards and in top management positions, on the basis of their competence and talent, it surely does no good when a female company director or manager or chief executive makes the news for allegedly sleeping with a client to further the company’s business.
Prof Teo, who is also an AWARE board member, said: "From a sociological viewpoint, all individual actions have to be understood in a broader social context. We should ask why the system is such that sex is rewarded but capabilities directly related to the job alone are not.
"Men continue to dominate higher positions across almost all organisations and we know with certainty that they are almost never asked for sexual favours in order to get there — why is it that comparably capable women are put in such positions wherein this so—called choice is even a possibility?"
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