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A Friday Note - 8 April 2016

Dear all,

We’re continuing to make terrific progress with our department’s White Ribbon accreditation. There’s still time to complete an anonymous follow up survey, to assist with understanding the level of awareness of our department’s zero tolerance of domestic or family violence either in or outside of the workplace, as well as supporting our accreditation as a White Ribbon Workplace.

Recently a staff member sent me a note that provides a powerful real life example of action that was taken to address a negative company culture. This note is summarised below.

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Recently I attended a seminar conducted by Michael Burdett. It was a fairly informal presentation but with some alarming statistics raised and some frank and open discussions throughout the group. Returning from the seminar, a colleague and I reflected on how we may be better able to support our colleagues and friends.

When I returned to the office I was dismayed to receive a complaint from one of my clients about inappropriate behaviour by a contractor engaged by the department. This included disrespectful behaviour to female site leaders.

The company involved is a large national company and I was extremely surprised by the nature of the complaints as this company has an excellent record both in technical ability and client satisfaction.

A meeting was arranged at the contractor’s local office for the next day, which was attended by the contractor’s work health safety & environment quality national manager. It was extremely disappointing that the meeting opened with comments to the effect that “these women can’t be trusted as they’re all prone to dramatising, and one of them is only 27 years old (so what would she know), and our blokes wouldn’t do this anyway.”

They then went on to attempt to intimidate and discredit me, to blame the witnesses and the victims and to put the reputation and profits of the company before anything else.

There was a request to interrogate the female site leaders in order to obtain a chronological order of events with eye witness statements and corroboration by others. The attitude of the contractor was aggressively legalistic, chauvinistic and officious, giving the impression that the company was more interested in protecting its reputation than addressing even the smallest of claims.

The work health safety & environment quality national manager reiterated that they are a tier one company with policies and procedures in place that prevent this type of incident occurring, implying that the incident didn’t happen.

I thought about what Michael Burdett had said at our White Ribbon seminar, “If men don’t stand up and say this is wrong then we aren’t doing our bit to change the culture.”

I’m pleased to say that we then engaged in a four hour discussion that ranged fairly widely but kept coming back to gender balance and respect for Women. We also spent another hour with the client where the contractor sat and truly listened and came away with a totally different attitude, with all issues dealt with respectfully and to the total satisfaction of the site leaders.

The national manager came away fully understanding the difference between paper policies and actual outcomes, understanding how to communicate effectively with women in the workforce. Since our meeting he’s been discussing implementation of cultural change with other managers and how they want to be leaders in gender balance and equality. This company now acknowledges it has a problem and is taking steps to fix it.

This particular company has 600 employees but only 2% are women. The greater percentage of their male employees never speak to women in their daily working lives, so they have a fair amount of work in front of them to turn their culture and their gender balance around.

My suggestions for our department:

  • Why don’t we move to require all of our contractors to become White Ribbon accredited?
  • What are we doing do to be proactive and support men who may be potential perpetrators within our own workforce? Do we only care about the women who actually work for our department, or do we have a greater duty of care that extends to the partners and families of our male employees?
  • Do we offer effective and specific support for men who are feeling so stressed by work and life that they are taking their frustrations home?

In closing I would like to thank Michael Burdett for being brave enough to take on the challenge of communicating the issues around White Ribbon, and I would like to thank you as well for providing the opportunity.

It has given me a small but valuable insight into the issue and gave me the confidence and the passion to stare down some fairly aggressive legal speak and turn it into a conversation with a positive outcome.

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Reform

Reform workshops are underway across our performance support services area as part of a wider initiative to simplify and standardise common work practices across our department.

Our updated organisational structure is now live on the intranet.

WELL DONE

I’m delighted to announce that, following a swift and successful passage through Parliament last year, the Local Government (Accountability and Governance) Amendment Act was proclaimed and commenced on 31 March 2016. The Amendment Act achieves significant reform of the local government legislative framework and I would like to recognise Office of Local Government staff past and present for their contributions to achieving these significant reforms.

Have a good weekend

Michael Deegan