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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!
Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
- Abraham Maslow
Many organisations, when faced with a complaint of bullying or sexual harassment, or other misconduct, elect to conduct the investigation ‘in-house’. The ‘easy’ path is not necessarily the best one. There are numerous examples of flawed or incomplete internal investigations resulting in criticisms from the Fair Work Commission and in some cases reinstatement following termination. This, to be honest, is just awkward.
There are many advantages in engaging one:
- Your internal resources may be stretched. Investigations can be very time consuming and an external investigator can dedicate the necessary time and resources to get it completed in a timely way.
- It is a stressful process for all involved — complainant, respondent and the witnesses, as well as other senior staff. An external investigator can complete the investigation in a way that reduces the stress for the parties, and your internal HR team.
- Investigations can have an enormous emotional impact on staff when they are conducted internally, when they know the people involved, as well as a strain on them intellectually, if they are not familiar with process and procedure. External investigators are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation, being engaged to investigate and report on the facts.
- An external investigator is completely impartial. Without knowing the personalities of the people involved an external investigator brings no pre-conceived ideas or biases to the investigation. This means it is likely to be perceived as a 'fairer' process.
- Having an external investigator means that your HR Manager, or other senior staff member who would ordinarily conduct the investigation, is able to provide 'emotional scaffolding', if needed, to the staff involved.
- The seniority of the people involved may require an external investigator. If, for example, the complaint involves someone to whom your HR Manager reports, it is not appropriate for that person to conduct the investigation.
- Perceptions of other staff can be more easily managed — internal investigations might be perceived as a ‘white wash’ or a ‘ticking boxes’ exercise, and looked upon with cynicism. Bringing in an external investigator shows staff that management takes the issue seriously.
- An external investigator is more experienced in conducting investigations and able to extract information others may not be able to. Professional investigators are very used to the charmers, the silent aggressors, the blamers, the people who don’t want to be involved and the underminers, and know how to deal with them.
- When an external investigator is engaged, it is unlikely to result in allegations of a lack of natural justice.
- Where recommendations are called for, management can act on them, as advice from the Investigator. This takes some pressure off management in terms of perceptions of staff in how the matter has been handled.
There is always a place for investigations to be conducted internally, but don’t under-estimate the value in having an external investigator deal with a difficult issue for you.
It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver
- Mahatma Ghandi
A recent study by Dr Rebecca Michalak of PsychSafe, has shown that the legal profession has the lowest levels of health and well being of white collar workers, and that they are also the highest users of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. In fact substance abuse is approximately double that of other white collar workers. You can read a summary of her report here.
It is no secret that the very nature of the legal profession is inherently stressful — long working hours, the tyranny of time sheets and budgets, demanding clients, competition, and a pessimistic view of the world as a result of always having to look for the worst case scenario and plan for it, all contribute to stress, which over a long period of time cam lead to many health problems. These health problems include many physical illnesses and also mental illnesses.
Sadly, substance abuse can be a by-product of mental health issues as those suffering from it attempt to self medicate, rather than admit to it.
Dr Michalak said that rather than teaching resilience, to cope with stress, law firms needed to take proactive, preventative measures around the systemic failings and work environments to prevent it happening at all.
I agree with Dr Michalak - at present the legal profession has almost double the rate of mental health diagnoses as the general population. This is a systemic issue not a personal one.
Disturbingly, her report also found that:
Lawyers were also more likely than other professionals to be exposed to toxic behaviour in the workplace, including verbal abuse, mistreatment, bullying, competition, and destabilisation from colleagues, as well as sexual harassment
The ripple effect of poor work practices and environments is large, and getting bigger.
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?
The events of childhood do not pass but repeat themselves like seasons of the year.
- Eleanor Farjeon
Bullies are everywhere. I don't know of a single person who has not experienced either first hand bullying or witnessed bullying, whether it be in the classroom or the workplace.
Real bullies have an enormous impact on their victims - from developing lack of confidence, to anxiety and depression, and sadly some of this behaviour and the results of it start at school. Studies have linked the onset of depression in adulthood to being bullied as a child - you can read more about that in this Forbes article.
I am a fan of the show Seinfeld, and recall an episode in which a lost school library book comes to haunt Jerry, by way of a large fine. In his quest to recall what happened to the book, and discovering along the way that their bullying gym teacher was now homeless, and living on the street outside the library, Jerry and George remembered the treatment dished out to them at school - George and Jerry's gym teacher referred to George Costanza as 'Cantstandya', which the jocks at school of course enjoyed. But the epitome of the bullying was 'the wedgie' where the jocks would give them a wedgie (pulling one's underpants up through the shorts). An 'atomic wedgie' occurred when the waistband was ripped off. Elaine is quite horrified by this and the conversation goes like this:
Elaine: Boys are sick
Jerry: What do girls do?
Elaine: We just tease someone til they develop an eating disorder
Cue the canned laughter! The delivery of these lines make it funny but the reality is that for the victims of bullying it is no laughing matter, whether as a child or an adult. While I have no doubt atomic wedgies could still be 'a thing' in some workplaces, they are hopefully very uncommon. Other forms of school room bullying which are still very common in the workplace include:
- Name calling
- 'Ganging up'
- Withholding information
- Withholding invitations
- Physical intimidation
- Actual physical violence
- Gossiping - spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
- Use of social media to humiliate and intimidate
At school, a bully may invite the whole class except one person to a party. At work, a bully might invite the whole team to drinks after work, except one person. At school, a bully may stand over a classmate and threaten to hurt them if they don't hand over their lunch or lunch money. At work, a bully might stand over a colleague and threaten to hurt them if they don't do something for them. At school a group of students might 'gang up' on a classmate and tease and humiliate them. At work, a group of workers might similarly 'gang up' on a work colleague.
Of course, to be bullying the behaviour has to fall within the legal definition of bullying, but you get the idea.
When you think about it, adult bullying is incredibly childish. It is the same as schoolyard bullying - the only differences are in demographics and geography. The impact on the victims is the same, if not worse. It is a source of hope that the many programs being introduced in schools will see a positiove impact in years to come in workplaces. If not, perhaps bullies in the workplace should be treated as children - give them detention, groundings, suspension and expulsion!
There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.
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
We all fight over what the label 'feminism' means but for me it's about empowerment. It's not about being more powerful than men — it's about having equal rights with protection, support, justice. It's about very basic things. It's not a badge like a fashion item.
Emma Watson, the 24 year old actress, best known as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies was appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador earlier this year and earlier this month delivered a speech at the UN. Headquarters in New York, to launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe. This campaign calls for men to advocate for gender equality. She spoke of her childhood, of being sexualised by the press as a young actress. The HeForShe campaign is not new concept. In Australia we have the Male Champions of Change program.
During the speech Ms Watson said that feminism had to stop being perceived as 'man-hating' to be successful, and that men were also victims of gender stereotyping. Cue the criticism of the twitterati.
Ms Watson's speech received a standing ovation at the UN. But it seems in not conforming to the very stereotype she is trying to battle, by 'inviting' men to be part of the conversation, she is not doing feminism in the right way. In a piece published in main stream media, and mentioned too many times to count, Clementine Ford wrote that the speech was 'hardly a game changer'. The title given to the piece on-line referred to her speech as 'rubbish' and Ms Ford belittled Ms Watson's views as rubbish in the article. To be honest, I'm not sure the speech was intended to be a game changer — it was one young feminist giving her views on feminism and the HeForShe campaign. Here is one quote from Ms Ford:
-I'm sorry to the Grinch who stole Popular Feminism, but this is utter rubbish. Gender inequality comes as a direct result of the enforcement of patriarchal structures. Although men are impacted negatively by it, they are not impacted in the same ways or to the same drastically violent extent as women.
This is of course all true. However, it does the cause of feminism no good to have writers like Ford demolishing anyone who dares to suggest another, perhaps softer, view, as if there is some special club one has to be in to claim to be a 'proper' feminist. As I have said before we can all call ourselves feminists if we believe equal work deserves equal pay; that workplaces need to be free from sexual harassment, that promotion should be on merit, that women have the right to choose what happens with and to their bodies. Everything else is a bonus — and all feminist views should be supported and respected and not disparaged.
Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
Henri Frederic Amiel
I have written before on the subject of gratitude and how important it is in the workplace.
Here are 10 simple and easy ways to show the people you work with how much you appreciate them:
Say thank you. Look them in the eye and say thank you.
Leave a surprise post it note on their desk or computer.
For a team thank you, organise a cake for morning tea one day.
Make someone a tea or coffee without asking them.
Tell someone else, in your staff member's hearing, what a great job they did.
Start an ABCD club — awards (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, whatever works for you) for staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Start a seasonal tradition and have a small celebration. Or a big one.
Celebrate big wins or good jobs for clients and customers with the whole team and make a big deal about the fact that it is a thank you to the team effort not celebrating the fee or profit.
If someone has been working longer than normal hours, surprise them with a 'get out of jail free' card to leave early one day.
Start a tradition for those with children starting school for the first time that they can either have the day off or work reduced hours that day.
These are just a few simple ideas to help make your staff feel valued, appreciated, and most importantly, engaged. But the possibilities are endless!
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others"
- Marcus Tullius Cicero
A lot has been written over the years about 'employee engagement' — about how to keep employees happy, engaged, at work, and reduce the risk of top performers leaving. A great deal of money has also been spent on engagement surveys and employee engagement programs.
There is an easy way to make sure employees remain engaged and loyal and it doesn't have to cost any money. And that is by saying 'THANK YOU,' and saying it often. Of course, it is one of many tools for ensuring engagement but it goes hand in hand with being respected and valued, and having a supervisor, manager or leader they respect.
Margie Warrell also wrote about this important aspect of leadership.
As a leader, or potential leader, you will have many people doing many different things for you each and every day. Try noticing those things, acknowledging them, and saying thank you. Staff will feel appreciated and are more likely to want to do more for you, feeling acknowledged and appreciated.
Take it one step further than saying thank you — say it out loud in the presence of others, and make it specific. Don't just say 'thanks for that'. Say, for example, 'thanks for getting that data to me so quickly — it really made getting my report to the client on time easier'. Or 'the client was really happy with my report — thanks so much for your input and your quick turn around time'.
I'll give you a specific example of the incredible effect of gratitude. When working in a large professional services firm many years ago, the business development team was working to a tight deadline to get a tender document out on a Monday. A few people were asked to work over the weekend to make sure it was finished on time.
I spoke to the managing partner on the Monday and mentioned the people who had given up their weekend — at all levels. Some worked in BDM, some were lawyers who wanted to win the project, and some were admin staff, responsible for the typing, collating and copying of the document. I suggested he send an email to them to thank them. He asked me to draft a quick email for him. Now I am not one of those people who spend their time wondering if something someone asks me to do is my job or not. In that moment, my job was to make him look good, and make all of those people feel appreciated. So I drafted the email, sent it to him, but asked him to send the email individually, not as a group email, which he did.
He came to see me later — one of the word processing staff had (he had been told), burst into tears when she got the email. No one (NO ONE) of 'importance' in any organisation she had worked for, had ever said 'thank you' to her like that. Acknowledged that, while, she may have been paid overtime, her commitment was what was valued, and her contribution to the firm in getting that job out the door.
He was stunned by this, and the effect it had on her — he went out of his way from then on to make sure he knew when staff had gone 'above and beyond'. And he always thanked them. It became a healthy virus in the office — because other people started acknowledging their work mates and saying thank you.
"No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude."
- Alfred North Whitehead
But the really good news is that studies show that the art of expressing gratitude increases the sense of well being in those expressing it — it is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, empathy and also creativity. This certainly was the case in the example above. I know he felt like he was a better leader for it, and he knew he was making a difference. And pretty soon I didn't have to keep telling him the good news stories — he found out about them, or noticed them himself.
Ask yourself — do you want to be the person your staff most look forward to seeing when you walk into the office? Try acknowledging them and finding a reason to thank them every day.
"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.