Idle male high-flyers a wasted resource, says Simon McKeon

Former AMP chairman Simon McKeon says now is the wrong time to be a 60-year-old professional male seeking public company board positions, as Australia tries to compress a boardroom gender diversity program into a few years.

Mr McKeon issued a clarion call yesterday on behalf of his idle but once high-achieving male friends in their 50s and 60s, who are unhappy and spending far too much time on the golf course after experiencing professional rejection for the first time.

“It’s the wrong time to be a 60-year-old professional male,” he told an Australian Centre for ­Financial Studies lunch in ­Melbourne.

The way Mr McKeon sees it, there is a huge cost to society of “rolling out this wonderful red carpet” (called work), which people enjoy for a relatively small proportion of their lives — about three decades or so.

“But then, when we hit our 50s or 60s, we’re suddenly told, ‘Actually, you’ve either got the golf club, the beach or aged care. Nothing else’,” he said. “I think it’s a serious issue and we haven’t talked enough about it.”

Mr McKeon, 60, resigned as AMP chairman in unexplained circumstances in April.

He acknowledged yesterday that men who had left or been forced out of high-end executive or partnership positions might just be experiencing what women have suffered for decades.

After an investment banking career at Macquarie Group, where he took time out to pursue external and not-for-profit activities, Mr McKeon regularly gets approached to fill important roles. Now, just as regularly, he lunches with former lawyers, ­executives and even chief executives who are bewildered at their predicament.

“They say to me, ‘I don’t get it. I’ve never actually had a misstep along the way and all of a sudden the doors aren’t opening any more’,” he said. “These people left me behind (in a career sense) but they get to this point and the doors just aren’t open; they’re not being offered what they want.”

In a later conversation with The Australian, the chancellor of Monash University and former Australian of the Year said opportunities on the board circuit were not as plentiful as they once were, partly because of the huge ­emphasis on gender diversity in public company boardrooms.

At AMP, Mr McKeon was ­succeeded by non-executive ­director Catherine Brenner, whom he ­regards as a highly capable ­replacement.

More broadly, the system is trying to “crush gender equality into the space of a few years”.

Prospects are better in the private company sector, which is more open to hiring older professionals. Rich-listers employed some “fantastic elderly people”.

The working elderly, he said, was the greatest generational challenge facing the country, with more people aged 50-plus on work-for-the-dole schemes than unemployed people under 22.

“The baby boomers are healthier than any previous generation, they’re more vocal and their age bracket forms a larger prop of the population than at any time in history,” he said.

“In coming years, they’re going to insist on much more than their right to a pension; they’re going to insist on their right to work. The quality of life and livability have transformed over the past century but our economic, societal and political expectations about ageing have simply not done so at the same pace.”

Last weekend, Mr McKeon said he had experienced the commonwealth’s Restart program, which offers businesses a wage subsidy of up to $10,000 to employ workers over the age of 50 for a minimum period.

By the end of last year, fewer than 2000 businesses had taken advantage of the program — about 5 per cent of what had been expected.



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