a resource, my insights, and news

I'm not a feminist, but...

The story of women's struggle foe equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.

- Gloria Steinam

There has been so much written on the subject of sexism, misogyny and feminism of late. Three cheers to all those who have written so eloquently on the subject lately without turning it into a competition.

It concerns me however that in a lot of the comments on blogs, newspaper items, tweets and discussions, a number of women start their comment with 'I'm not a feminist, but…' or 'I'm not an avid feminist, but…' while agreeing with the writer or commentator about the deplorable state of affairs for women.

I became a feminist (or at least with the benefit of hindsight, became a feminist) at the age of eight, when I was expelled from Brownies for refusing to earn my badges for sewing, craft, and various other 'feminine' pursuits. Actually the truth is it was probably writing 'Brown Owl is a bum' in chalk on the footpath Brown Owl walked on her way home, after getting into trouble for that attitude that got me expelled but I took a stand. You see the Brownie hut was next door to the Scout Den and they got to build fires and canoes. I didn't understand why I couldn't do that. I can still build the BEST fire but don't ask me to sew on a button.

From a young age I was aware of discrimination — at high school being made to do Mothercare lessons which again I eventually refused to do. I went to university and studied law. In one of my first lectures the male lecturer told us how much a degree would be worth over the course of our careers, but added it wasn't as important for the female students because we could always just marry a lawyer. My complaint to the Dean went nowhere.

The thing is this — no woman should be embarrassed about being a feminist, or worry about being labeled a feminist. Being a feminist is terrific, and is not an exclusive club — all the members of that club are frankly marvellous. So here is my take on it:

EVERY woman who believes that equal work deserves equal pay is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes workplaces should not be places of fear just because of your gender is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes promotion should be on merit and nothing else is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes that girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan deserve the right to go to school without fear of being shot at is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes that women have the right to choose whether or not to have a baby is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes no one should suffer through a violent relationship out of fear and want to help that woman is a feminist.

EVERY woman who believes she has the right to walk home after a night out without having to fear sexual assault is a feminist.

AND – EVERY man who believes these things is a feminist too.

You don't need to be feisty about it, grow armpit hair, hold placards or write articles. But you can if you want to.  You can call it as you see it without the need to apologise for your views. You can do it quietly or loudly. You just need to do it, and be proud of it.

There are lots of disagreements amongst feminists about what it takes to be one and they are always interesting discussions. These are just my simple rules. I think we're all feminists and I'm proud to be one.

Thanks to Destroy The Joint for publishing this cartoon in 2013.

Happy International Women's Day tomorrow!

She is just being 'oversensitive'.

The most introspective of souls are often those that have been hurt the most

- Shannon Alder 


One of the many reasons I love Foxtel is the fact that on any given day there is at least one episode of Law & Order or CSI I can record to watch at some later point.  I quite enjoy the forensic nature of this stable of shows (for obvious reasons).  In addition, I quite enjoy seeing rapists,  murderers and child molesters get their come-uppance.  It’s very rare that I don't have a wide selection of these shows on my planner to watch at my leisure.

In Law & Order: Criminal Intent recently (Ok , it was a repeat, as are most of them) – a show called Baggage – Goren and Eames were investigating the murder of a female supervisor at an airline.  The woman supervised a number of  baggage handlers, all men, some of whom had been sexually harassing her.  At the risk of spoiling the ending, the murder actually had nothing to do with the sexual harassment, but her promotion to a management position.

This was a fictional story, yet it was easy to imagine this happening in real life

I found my blood boiling though at some of the detail of her claims of sexual harassment and bullying and how they were investigated.  The victim had kept a journal detailing the harassment, which included:

  • physical intimidation (standing in her way in passageways, requiring her to brush past them, standing over her desk)
  • organising team drinks at strip clubs
  • putting up playboy posters next to her locker
  • sexual, anonymous phone calls
  • unwelcome text messages
  • comments on her clothing and looks
  • threats of rape if she reported the harassment
  • urine and semen on her belongings in her locker

As well as her journal, she had told her father about the harassment.  His advice was to ignore it, and it would go away.  Which of course it didn't.

Regrettably, the HR Manager did not engage an external, independent investigator when the employee raised her concerns.  In the words of the Manager, it was determined, without investigating thoroughly, that she was ‘over-sensitive’ and exaggerating. 

Investigations involving sexual harassment are often difficult when only the complainant and the respondent have their versions of events. If this were a real case, a good investigator would have been able to speak to the father, would have seen her journal, and accessed phone records to back up claims of the harassing phone calls and texts, without pre-judging the issue based on personalities or biases.

World Kindness Day in the workplace

What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?

- Jean Jacques Rousseau

Friday 13 November 2015 is World Kindness Day.  This day is part of a World Kindness Movement (WKM) that started at a conference in Japan almost 20 years ago.

The mission of the WKM is "to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world".

This is the WKM on a macro level - changing the world.  We can, however, all make a difference by practising kindness every day and on this day, consciously practising kindess in the workplace.  Imagine if we could change the world by changing one workplace at a time.

Kindness does not have to be a grand gesture.  Nor does is have to cost money.  Kindness can be a small gesture, genuinely made.  Some of the simplest acts of kindness in the workplace are:

  • holding a door open
  • offering to make someone a cup of tea
  • answering someone's phone and taking a message
  • offering to get extra materials from the stationery room
  • keeping the lift doors open when you see someone rushing to catch the lift
  • remembering colleague's birthdays and acknowledging them
  • taking an interest in peoples' interests
  • showing genuine empathy to someone who is upset

Empathy is one of the best character traits to have - it makes the practice of kindness easy.  And authentic.  Practising kindness because you 'have to' is emotionally exhausting.  Authenticity is essential.

The really good news about kindness, however is twofold.  First,  is that is is contagious.  We take our cues from other people.   When we witness or experience someone showing us kindness, we experience something called moral elevation - an emotion we experience after witnessing an act of kindness, compassion, understanding or forgiveness.  We are more likely to be kind and helpful ourselves in that state.  If leaders show kindness, their employees are also more likely to do so.

Secondly, practising kindness gives another person the opportunity to express gratitude,  a very underrated virtue.  In turn, having someone say 'thank you' gives us a good feeling and also increases the well being of the person expressing it.

When you think about it, kindness creates a giant warm circle of happiness.  What's not to like?



Inclusive behaviour may prevent bullying claims

There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.

-Pablo Picasso

In my work, I am often appointed as an independent investigator in relation to complaints of workplace behaviour – most often these are bullying complaints and occasionally sexual harassment.    Complaints of sexual  harassment are often difficult because without witnesses it is usually a case of ‘he said, she said’.  Occasionally there will be a ‘smoking gun’.

In relation to bullying, these cases are difficult for entirely different reasons.  I often say that ‘bullying is in the eye of the beholder’.  What might be perceived as bullying by one person would not bother another.  Regardless of the sensitivities of the complainant, bullying claims all have to be investigated in light of the relevant legislative definitions, which involve what is meant to be an objective test but is in fact the very subjective test of reasonableness.

A few things have been made clear over the course of my work in this area, combined with the work I have done with Diversity Partners recently in relation to inclusive leadership.  Inclusion is about how people feel at work, and it is possible to bully by exclusion.  So the very behaviours that go with being an inclusive leader can also help prevent  a bullying claim.

We often attribute certain behaviours to a person rather than a situation they are in.  I can recall starting a new school in year 6 – it was a small school and I started in the middle of a term. There were 16 eleven year olds in the class before I joined.  Binna Kandola talks about the effects of ‘In Groups’ and ‘Out Groups’ in his book ‘The Value of Difference:  Eliminating Bias in Organisations' and I was very much a one girl member of the out group that year.  That group of students made me feel isolated, strange, different and unwelcome.  I can recall walking into the classroom and they were looking at my report card from my previous school which had been on the teacher’s desk, and one of them said ‘you must think you’re really smart’.  I said nothing.  I was very quiet and tried to physically shrink in the classroom.  After a while I became angry and my natural extraversion kicked in and I started fighting back verbally.  This made it worse of course.

I was then labelled arrogant, rude, and bitchy.

Did I feel bullied?  Absolutely.  Did they intend to make me feel like that?  Probably not. 

Children of course don’t think as adults – but imagine the above scenario in a work situation.  A new team member starts, and feels excluded, different.  She sees the team members looking at her CV or performance review documents and making snarky comments.  She goes quiet then gets angry.  Does she feel bullied? Absolutely.  Did they intend to make her feel like that?  Probably not.  But the potential for a bullying claim is there.

Had this behaviour been properly attributed to the situation and NOT the person, the result would have been entirely different.  Had those school children or the team members chosen to think and act inclusively, the situation would never have deteriorated.  So think about your behaviour – are you acting inclusively?  Are you inviting this person to be involved, getting to know them, asking how they are getting on, offering to help with the new environment and introducing them to the people they need to know?

Inclusive behaviour, along with reflection on your communication style, will go a long way to preventing a bullying claim

Wanting equality is not about 'hating' men

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual

Albert Einstein


Natalie Barr from Channel 7's Sunrise program has caused a stir with an opinion piece describing how she has never experienced discrimination.  The first two paragraphs of her article state:

'Am I the only woman who's not angry at men?  I'm a woman and I have never felt discriminated against.  There.  I've said it.  I'm not angry at men.  I can't remember being passed over for a promotion because of a man and I have never felt undervalued because I'm a woman'

I'm pleased for Natalie Barr.  Seriously pleased she has never experienced discrimination.  That's assuming she knows she actually has not been discriminated against — that decisions about pay and promotion in relation to her career have resulted in equal treatment for her.  And as she works in the media I sincerely hope that as she ages, she is not moved aside for someone younger, or that her salary stagnates to the point that she is earning much less than her male counterparts.  Of which, as she states, she knows nothing.

What troubles me most is her question 'Am I the only woman who's not angry at men?'    Wanting equality in the workplace is not about being angry at men, or hating men. It's not high school.  It is quite possible  however that there are a lot of women out there who ARE angry — not at men, but at a system, unconsciously or otherwise, that holds women back in ways both big and small because of their gender, not their actual abilities.  One need only look at the statistics to see there is something going on other than a 'them vs us' thing — a 17% pay differential, graduate salaries less for women than men, fewer women in leadership, at a time when more and more women are graduating from universities across the nation.

I have worked for many years in a profession that is often in the news, lamented for the lack of women at the top of the career ladder.  It is a source of constant conversationa and tomes have been written - and yet nothing changes.  I continue to work now across a variety of industries and also coach and mentor many women who have or who are currently experiencing discrimination.  And it is not about their abilities.

Here are but a few examples:

When a group of men go to a strip club after a conference dinner and take their male client with them, leaving the only female behind — that's discrimination.

When entertaining a client involves going to a game a rugby and only the male practitioners are invited — that's discrimination.

When a woman is told, to her face, that at 40, she is 'too old' to be considered for promotion to partnership, regardless of her contribution or performance — that's discrimination

When a senior practitioner announces that a particular person would be a good candidate for partnership because at 'her age' she is unlikely to have children — that's discrimination.

When a group of people all at the same level include one woman, who is paid a minimum of  $30K less in salary than the lowest paid of the males in that group — that's discrimination.

When the possibility of a transfer and consequent promotion is discussed with a number of males and not one female — that's discrimination.

When a woman is told at a performance review that there is a perception she is 'not committed' to career advancement because she chooses to go home at 5pm on a Friday (note this is ONE day a week) to be with her family while her male colleagues go out for drinks — that's discrimination.

I could go on.  I could write a book if I had the time as it is a long list. I see it or hear of it every day, and stand up to it, and help women stand up to it as it is not acceptable.

What is missing from your piece, Natalie, is a discussion of opportunity.  Opportunity begets experience which begets more opportunity then promotion and pay rises.  You are fortunate that you had opportunity presented to you, or that you were able to take it. Many women are consciously, but mostly unconsciously, excluded from opportunity because of their gender and because of assumptions made about them  This is a result of years of ingrained thought patterns by decision makers and is not easily challenged because it is often hard to identify.  

It is not about being angry at men, but rather the systems created within organisations by decision makers who are for the most part, male.  So yes, I'm angry.  And I became angrier after reading your opinion piece because frankly, it makes it easy for those who don't believe unconscious bias is an issue to point to this and say 'There.  See.  It IS just about ability'.

No one says it better than Ita Buttrose and Sarah Harris on Studio 10 via the Hoopla website.

I really enjoyed that!




Flexibility in the news

Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one's children

William Bennett

The last week has seen quite a bit of news about flexibility.

First of all, in world news, we found out that German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is adopting a flexible work arrangement taking a half day every Wednesday afternoon to collect his two year old daughter from school.  Astonishing.   Don’t get me wrong I am all for male champions of change and Herr Sigmar is setting a wunderbar example of how men can be real role models and mentors .  And I note that he is taking no prisoners in his response to not being 100% committed to his VIJ (very important job).  Something every woman with a VIJ and children has to put up with at some time or another.

When I first read this I was disappointed and more than a little bit cynical –   disappointed that in 2014, a man in Germany makes the world news for taking time off to care for a child. Imagine the newsprint that would be used up every time a woman with a VIJ gave up time at work to pick up a child from day care.  On the other hand, I think it is wonderful that such a man is taking fatherhood (or should I say parenthood) seriously (at least the second time around) and not sacrificing himself completely to his work with such a young child. He admits it is his 'turn' to collect their child from nursery school, and would be working from home, managing his time to be able to do so.

Herr Gabriel also tweeted a photo of himself, in front of his computer at home checking his emails, having picked up his daughter, and made a coffee.  Something a small army of women do every day.

On balance, of course it is a great thing and we need more of it, if not for women to be able to participate in their careers more fully with a partner who is a true partner, but because it is better for children and families, to have both parents, of whatever gender,  involved in the care of children.  Historically, in families with both parents involved in parenting, it is the mother who is more likely to work part time, and more likely to be the primary care-giver. For women with children to be able to participate more fully in their careers, they need a partner who will do more of the 'heavy lifting' that goes with parenthood.  And housework.

The article about Herr Gabriel, became even more important in light of what came out later in the week.   A study covering 35000 Australian families, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, has found what they called the 'tipping point' of work/life balance  - that for women (my emphasis) with careers they should work 2-3 days a week. You can read the news report on the research here.

The senior researcher said that in doing so women (my emphasis) were more able to fit their work around their caring responsibilities and that if they worked longer than that women (my emphasis) risked creating an unhappy home, as they rushed family time and missed key family events.

First, how awful for those who have no choice financially but to work full time to have more guilt heaped on them by this research.

Secondly, this is once again about women being solely responsible for working and creating a happy home.  Enough of these stereotypes.  Herr Gabriel, I take my hat off to you.  Hut ab vor ihm!



Discovering your own unconscious bias

This post was first published by Diversity Partners here

Good managers have a bias for action.

Tom Peters

Some time ago, an HR manager told me an incredible story about how she discovered her own unconscious bias, through an ‘aha’ moment.

A few years before, she had been recruiting for a very senior legal role that needed to be filled urgently. One of the criteria was the ability to communicate clearly and quickly with clients in relation to a very complex transaction. When the time came to review the CVs, she was disappointed to discover that, out of 40 CVs, there were only two candidates she felt were worth interviewing.

So she decided to go through them all again in case she missed something. And she had.

She suddenly saw that she had rejected every CV where the applicant’s name suggested Asian ethnicity. In her words, she was very shocked. She told me, firmly, that she was not one of those people who says ‘I’m not racist, but…’. However, something was clearly going on for this to happen without her realising.

Was it the communication issue that caused her to make assumptions and reject so many applicants? The firm already had many lawyers of Asian ethnicity. Many of her friends and acquaintances were of Asian ethnicity. Some had been born in Australia; some had not. None of these people had any difficulties with communication.

She asked one of her staff members to give her a summary of all of the CVs without the CVs attached, removing any reference to age, gender and also removing names. She ended up with a shortlist of 10 people rather than two, basing selection purely on candidates’ experience on paper.

Afterwards, she reflected on the experience and remembered that, many years before, she had been lecturing and tutoring at a university where there was a very high proportion of Asian law students in the classes. Probably half of the students were full fee paying students from overseas who struggled to understand the concepts in English and effectively answer questions on exam papers. She realised then she had allowed this experience from many years before to create a bias in relation to the communication skills of people applying for jobs all those years later.

So the lesson for her (and me, after hearing her story)? From that day on, she never looked at a CV with a name or date of birth on it when she needed to shortlist. She always had a staff member review the CVs and give her a summary with those identifying features removed. This also ensured there was no gender or age bias in any of her recruitment decisions. It also enabled her to go to partners with potential candidates based purely on experience, and she is absolutely confident that they interviewed more and better candidates because of it.

So what has been your ‘aha’ moment? If you haven’t had one, the time will and should come. Your willingness to examine your own possible unconscious bias is a very important step in understanding the concept of unconscious bias and its effect on your organisation.



Making a Flexible Work Arrangement Work

"Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."

Tony Robbins

This post was first published by Diversity Partners.

I am often approached by people seeking advice on obtaining approval for a flexible work arrangement and also advice on the best way to make it work.

My advice is very simple – treat this as you would a project for a client. Say, for example, you were assisting the client to produce a tender to win some government work.  The client needs to convince the procurement officer they have the best tender to win the work. Your supervisor or team leader is, in effect, the procurement officer.

  1. Read the policies and procedures back to front. It is vital that you understand the rules – read the  firm policy, what type of flexible work is possible under the policy, and how the  policy works in practice.  Find out how others have made it work.  Make sure the flexible work arrangement you are proposing fits within the terms of the policy.  If it doesn’t, for example you may be seeking a combination of part time and work from home but the policy only allows for one or the other, be pro-active and suggest amendments to the policy, but in the meantime ensure your proposal fits the policy.
  2. Be very clear about what sort of flexible work you are seeking – being vague or proposing a number of options does not give the person making the decision clarity about the decision they have to make.
  3. Prepare a business case – treat your proposal as a business document.  Set out clearly the benefits, both for you and the firm, address how colleagues, clients or suppliers will be affected and how you will deal with that, include communication strategies that will need to be put in place, other support you may need (eg technology).  The Victorian women Lawyers’ association has an excellent suite of protocols dealing with the various flexible working arrangements, which are useful guides in preparing your business case, whether you work within the legal profession or not.
  4. Prepare for objections – answer any anticipated objections or questions in your proposal. Try and think of every possible problem or question that may be asked and make a pre-emptive strike in your proposal.  If for example, there is a regular team meeting on a day it is proposed you are not going to be in the office, and for whatever reason it cannot be changed, can you be available to attend by phone or by skype?
  5. Make sure your expectations around career development are clearly enunciated -  cover off expectations you may have in relation to career development opportunities (eg education and training, salary reviews).
  6. Build in review/allow for change – if you are working in a team or group that has not addressed this before, or your supervisor is perceived as being potentially unsupportive, suggest a review period (eg three months), and allow for change. Make sure that the proposal covers off situations where you are unable to alter your arrangement – eg child or eldercare commitments if you are working flexibly for family reasons, exam time and study block if you are working flexibly for study reasons.
  7. Discuss with team members confidentially -  seek out team members you trust and seek their input into the proposal and if appropriate and with their permission, put their support, or the fact that you have addressed their concerns, into the submission.

Once successful…

Assuming you are successful in your quest, how do you make it work?

  1. Seek out a mentor – find someone who has successfully made this work as a mentor.  Better still, start up a peer mentoring group,  if none exists,  for those working flexibly.  Become a leader for those people.
  2. Reciprocity  - I am a big believer in reciprocity.  If you are successful in achieving your goal of working flexibly, make sure you are prepared to give back some flexibility.  If possible, help out others in the team.  If someone is for example answering phones late in the day because you’re leaving early, offer to do the same if that person needs to go to a medical appointment during the day.  Always look for ways you can give back.
  3. Over communicate – Always let people in your team know when you are unavailable and make sure you ask for feedback as to how it is working and address any concerns directly.  And say thank you to those who are helping you to make it work.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept"

- Lieutenant General David Morrison

This post was first published by Diversity Partners. Imagine going to work every day, knowing that a colleague has taken photos or video of you, of a sexual nature, and distributed them not just to other work colleagues, but via work email, sent them outside the organisation, and published them on the Internet. Imagine then, if you had no way of raising this with a person in a leadership role, or worse, doing that and having nothing done about it. I imagine I would leave that organisation knowing the humiliation would last a lifetime.

I have been involved in many workplace disputes, investigations, conflict resolution, and discipline around inappropriate behaviours – from what some would perceive as minor to the very major. It would be a rare organisation, which did not go through something like this at least once. There have been many public examples as well.

The very worst cases, the ones that generally make the media, have been those where the complainant has felt let down by their employer in either not dealing appropriately with the situation when it was brought to their attention or having no means by which they felt able to raise a concern. The army is no longer prepared to be one of those employers.

If only every CEO of every organisation could take a leaf out of the book of Head of the Australian Defence Force, Lieutenant General David Morrison.

Recently, the Australian Defence Force has been the subject of very public sexual harassment claims, and allegations of inappropriate conduct. Lieutenant General Morrison made an announcement regarding his attitude to this sort of behaviour and the culture of the ADF for all its employees - view the full Message from the Chief of Army. He makes absolutely no bones about his attitude to this behaviour and what he thinks of those who not just perpetrate it, but those who know about it and do nothing. It makes me want to join the army.

Take a moment to think about that incredible speech. Replace the word 'army' with the name of your own organisation. Think of this speech as if it is also referring to bullying or any other kind of harassment or discrimination, towards anyone, male or female. Any CEO who honestly wants a diverse, inclusive and safe workplace should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest his words. And live them. Here are some of my favourite quotes (taking out the reference to the army). This is true leadership in action:

"Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of [your company] and the environment in which we work'

'If you become aware of any individual degrading another then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honours the tradition of [your company] and the environment in which we work'

'I will be ruthless in ridding [your company] and the environment in which we work of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this'

'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." That goes for all of us but especially those who ...have a leadership role."

The entire speech is inspiring but the reason these are my favourite quotes is that Morrison entreats his entire workforce to join him in this cultural revolution of the army. And it is not about how men treat women. It is about how people treat other people in the organisation. It is not just him but each and every member of the ADF who will take responsibility for living the values. Great leaders cast long, deep and broad shadows - their influence reaches beyond those with whom they come into direct contact because they are symbolic of the values of the entire organisation. Lieutenant General Morrison already has a long shadow.

We can all learn from this speech. And we can all do something to show our respect and care for others today and every day.