“It’s not nice hurting people, it’s not nice seeing people hurt, so the quicker we can get on top of it, the better.”
This sentiment from Aussie Olympian Kyle Chalmers came off the back of yet another racism scandal in one of our major sporting codes. And it’s a sentiment that can be applied more broadly to an epidemic of poor culture in corporate Australia.
As Mr Chalmers said, it’s not nice seeing people hurt, and there’s also the long-term reputational damage for the individuals and organisations involved from the frequent reporting in the media.
So, what can we do as individuals and as organisations, to reduce the scorn on our society from the ongoing issues of racism and discrimination?
Firstly, it is important to recognise this issue of cultural reform is deep, and it’s been around for a good 233 years. It’s a complex road to reform and not an issue that can be solved in isolation. From an organisational perspective, changing the culture inside Australian workplaces requires a whole of society approach to help drive both legislative and societal change.
This year marks 10 years since Victoria enacted the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Act 2011. More colloquially known as Brodie’s Law, the Crimes Act was amended to make serious bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. The amendment came after the tragic suicide of 19-year-old Brodie Panlock after she was subjected to workplace bullying, enabled by a toxic workplace culture.
This is an example of how legislative change can be effective in sending a clear message of deterrence and denunciation where conduct – serious workplace bullying in this case – is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated.
Also in Victoria, the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 is the only jurisdiction in Australia with a ‘positive duty’ obliging all organisations covered by the Act, to take reasonable, proportionate and proactive steps towards eliminating discrimination – in simple terms, making work a ‘nice’ and safe place to be, with a culture that promotes inclusion and speaking up when necessary.
On a national scale, the final report of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces was released by the Australian Human Rights Commission in March 2020. A raft of legislation was introduced this year as a result, intending to support meaningful cultural change in Australian workplaces following concerns about employer responses to sexual harassment.
All three are examples of how legislative change can drive greater accountability and better outcomes for victims of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or other forms of unacceptable conduct in the workplace by mandating good behaviour. Critically however, leaders must recognise that conduct is enabled by the culture that they engender, and that the organisation must deliver up-to-date training to ensure all are well-versed in the acceptable standard of behaviour, the process of reporting and resolution and the legislation, should an instance of this conduct arise.
Cultural and societal change
As the saying goes, you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink – the same principle applies here. To create long-lasting, meaningful change we need a society-wide thirst for, and commitment to, cultural reform.
A collective response is required from all Australians – and particularly those in positions of power – to lead from the top down, to walk the talk and promote conversations to stymie the causes of bad behaviour which can often originate outside the workplace.
Why? As Eddie Betts put it: “There’s no room for racism in Australia and we as Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people are sick of fighting — we are, we’re sick of fighting — because it just keeps happening and happening and I’m tired.”
Leaders can help to build a positive culture by:
- genuinely committing to putting people first rather than settling for the ‘check-a-box’ approach to compliance;
- setting values and standards for the workplace;
- instituting a governance framework that rewards good practice;
- modelling desired behaviours in what they say and they do;
- encouraging reporting and transparency; and
- implementing and promoting workplace policies through consistent training.
We all know that we are stronger as a nation when we are united by our shared common values of respect, dignity, and fairness for all. To walk our talk, we need to have, as Eddie asks of us, a conversation so that we can be better. To live by these values and to know these values are alive and well at home, in the workplace and on the sports field, so that we can “get on top of it” and create an Australian culture we can all be proud of.
Deborah Coram, Safetrac’s CEO, will regularly share industry-relevant news to keep you informed on what’s happening in the world of compliance and brand protection.
As an authority on compliance training for almost 20 years, Deborah’s insights are thought-provoking, relevant and timely.
Want to view any of our courses?
We can set you up with online access to view the content and test assessment questions.
Get started by completing the below form.