Focus: Faria and the dirty fight against office dinosaurs

Is she in it for the money or on a crusade against sleazy former bosses? Why not both, asks Melanie McDonagh
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The Independent Online

Faria Alam's case against the Football Association for constructive dismissal, sex discrimination and unequal pay has revealed a good deal about life inside the FA, which its executives would rather had not come to light. It has also provided a grateful nation with a straightforward moral for office life: never put anything in an email that you would not care to be read aloud, if not in court, at least by colleagues. If the old rule that you should never put anything incriminating in writing was sensible before email, it is doubly so now.

The messages Miss Alam sent to her friend Leila Khan found their way into the News of the World. From that, everything else flowed - the revelations, the attempted cover-ups, the exposure, the self-exposure, the claims, the counterclaims. And look where it has got them all.

The most embarrassing revelations in this week's hearing at the employment tribunal were the messages read aloud in court from Miss Alam's work email account, which the FA had opened up. "Let's call him Sugar," she wrote of Sven Goran Eriksson. "He's very sweet." Mark Palios, the FA chief executive she also dated, was referred to as Pretty Polly. The more explicit emails were kept for the judge alone.

But apart from electronic discretion, is there anything that we can learn from this case? Observers divide into two camps. Feminists tend to suggest that Miss Alam was enmeshed in a culture of systemic sexual exploitation by her male superiors. When the affairs with Eriksson and Palios inevitably became public it was her, not the men, whom the FA hung out to dry. This argument is supported by last week's claims that David Davies, her direct line manager, sexually harassed her. He denies doing so. The other view is that Miss Alam was as much a manipulator as a victim and that, so very far from being put upon in the affair, she seized the opportunity to sell her story to two tabloid papers for £300,000, with the help of Max Clifford. Oh, and that she dresses in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination.

There is a third, even more high-minded group, which says that if two divorced people - oh, all right, three - choose to have sexual relationships, that is nobody's business but theirs. That would be a good point, although such affairs have social repercussions, if we did not now see sexual relationships in the workplace as a matter not of private morality but of money and power. Perhaps both Miss Alam and her FA bosses were promiscuous and manipulative.

The difference between the men and the woman in this affair doesn't seem to be between the predators and the victim. It was in what they thought the sex was for. The men saw it as a straightforward diversion; for Faria Alam sex seems to have been a means of self-advancement. One of her emails read: "I am 36, unmarried and loving it. My social life is amazing. I date famous people ... Yes I worked in insurance once just temping and I knew my potential lay in dealing with high fliers and bigshots."

Ambition is fine and dandy, but she seems to have intended to realise her potential not by doing her job really well, but by the dreary route of playing up to the bigshots' ego and libido. And if the men in this case were predatory, then she was surely no slouch as a predator herself. Which raises the interesting question: do sexual overtures count as harassment if the woman is complicit in the affair?

No party comes out well from this business, but only Miss Alam has paid for her sins. She received £300,000 for the revelations and photographs in the papers at the time of her resignation, but nowadays this sum won't take you far. She says that she now finds it almost impossible to find a job, and I believe her. In career terms, sexual notoriety diminishes a woman's employability. Need I point out the difference between Faria Alam's situation now and those of the men with whom she had affairs, Eriksson and Palios? Their professional standing has not suffered and their earning potential is unaltered.

It doesn't really matter who wins this case... Miss Alam has already lost her reputation. If it's any consolation to her, the FA hardly had a reputation to lose.

FA scandal and 'Ketchupgate' suggest prehistoric beasts are still lurking in the workplace, says Lucy Bulmer

They ought to be extinct by now. The office has evolved, and attitudes to the relationship between boss and worker have become more enlightened. For the most part, men and women tread carefully through the emotional undergrowth, trying to avoid the dangers of innuendo, inappropriate touching or humour, bullying and exploitation. But every so often there's a bellow in the swamp and a dinosaur is discovered wreaking havoc.

Faria Alam considers herself to have endured Jurassic sexual attitudes from the men at the Football Association. Her tribunal will decide if that is true. Dinosaur was probably a polite word for what Jenny Amner thought of her colleague Richard Philips when he asked her to pay the £4 it cost for dry cleaners to remove stains from the ketchup she had accidentally spilt on his trousers in the staff canteen.

It took Mrs Amner nine days to respond to his email asking for the money. She was sorry for the delay, which was due to "my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral. I have had more pressing issues than your £4." She signed off, "Obviously your financial need as a senior associate is greater than mine as a mere secretary."

Mr Philips is thought to earn up to £150,000 at law firm Baker & McKenzie. Mrs Amner is thought to earn £25,000. The exchange of emails was forwarded around the City, then got in the papers. Mr Philips is leaving Baker & McKenzie, but not because of this episode. The firm says he and Mrs Amner are on paid leave "with our approval and full support".

Whoever's side you take, "ketchup trousers" got people talking in offices all over the country. Was it a dinosaur sighting? Was that another one over at the FA? Have you got a prehistoric beast at your work? To help you decide, we have tracked down six of the main types lurking in the corporate swamp.

The noisiest can be called the Tyrannosaurus. He is a tyrant. Jean, 51, used to be a secretary for one of these, the manager of a mail-order firm in Dorset. "He was always shouting, you never knew when you might get bawled out in front of everybody. I used to wake up on a Monday morning feeling sick with fear. One day he reduced me to tears in front of the entire packing room. My crime? I'd left a comma off a letter. I left soon after."

The Leerosaurus can be quite subtle, as he forces his attentions on anything that moves. Erin, 38, now a high-powered PR manager, knows why many women feel unable to complain. "My creepy boss asked me about my sex life and kept cornering me. He'd laugh when I ran away. I didn't dare say anything. The management were all men and I was a junior."

Not all dinosaurs are men. The board may expect the Queenosaurus to be more caring but she is busy pulling up the ladder of opportunity so that others, particularly women, can't catch her. Margaret Thatcher is this Queen Bee's role model. Dominic, 39, used to work for one in a small marketing company. "She didn't like people who had their own ideas and resented it if you had a life outside work. I refused to work on Boxing Day and found myself ostracised."

The Bleatosaurus damages its victims by exhausting them. This is the boss who can't fetch his (or her) own dry-cleaning or buy their own underwear. Linda, 29, PA to a magazine editor, was asked by her Bleatosaurus boss to select Christmas presents for his nieces in Australia. "I wasn't happy. Still, this is a well-paid job and I don't want to leave."

The Glorydactyl swoops down from on high to steal any good idea that's going and claim the credit. Television producer Dan, 33, came up with a brilliant concept in a brainstorming meeting. "I felt quite proud - until my boss started referring to it as 'his baby' and the best concept he'd ever come up with."

The last kind of office relic lacks the brains to steal other people's ideas. The Dodo is so useless that everyone else does their job for them. Rob, 42, was once a galley hand on a tourist yacht in the Caribbean. His new boss, Danielle, was attractive but couldn't cook. "I was literally keeping her afloat," he says. "I did tell the skipper though, and she was demoted to deckhand while I got the cook's job!" So it is possible to bite back. But as Faria Alam and Jenny Amner are finding, the fight can be bloody.


The Tyrannosaurus

Treats junior staff like raw meat. Screams, shouts ... very demanding: you never know when he or she is going to kick off or who's going to get it. Think Sir Alex "Hair-dryer" Ferguson, Gordon Ramsay or supermodel Naomi Campbell, who admitted once assaulting her secretary in a rage.

The Leerosaurus

Can't keep his paws off the female staff. Step forward Bill Clinton. Jennifer Jones, Paula Corbin, Juanita Broderick, Kathleen Willey ... the list stretches back 30 years to his student days at Oxford. Yet few of the accusations came out until the furore over his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

The Bleatosaurus

Doesn't know how to work the photocopier. At Goldman Sachs, PA Joyti De-Laurey had such free rein over some partners' personal affairs that she was able to steal £4.4m from private accounts without it being noticed. One called from Hong Kong to say her air conditioning wasn't working.

The Queenosaurus

Tramples on anyone who might steal her crown. She's a woman. Does that make her touchy-feely? Forget it. She has to be more macho than the men and demolish the chances of any woman who looks like a rival as Queen Bee. Margaret Thatcher was an outstanding specimen.

The Glorydactyl

He'll nick your good idea, present it as his own and take the glory. You remain stuck in a rut for years while your boss gathers plaudits and goes from strength to strength. David Brent does it best: "Every time you open your mouth, you have this wonderful ability to confirm what I think."

The Dodo

As useful as a bird that can't fly. The only way to reveal how truly out of his depth he is would be to let the doo-doo hit the fan, but the people round him are too professional for that. This is the utterly hopeless Gordon Brittas in The Brittas Empire. That sitcom is extinct. The Dodo, sadly, isn't.