A Response to the Prue Goward Report
“We demand people stand up to bullying, misogyny and racism, but we don’t show them how.”
Keira Minter, Founder, Mission Equality
The modern workplace is complex. Less than a century ago, humans were kept divided by the fraudulent constructs of class, race, gender and ability. Now, people who would never have met a few generations ago, spend 30% of their lives performing tasks that require intricate interpersonal communications.
But some people bring destructive behaviours into this scenario, causing distress and harm to many.
I witnessed and experienced this from my position within a large state government department. I became outspoken about the toxic workplace culture. I regularly drew attention to hostile work environments and institutionalised racism.
Then, in 2007, the NSW Premier Morris Iemma issued a memorandum from NSW Dept. of Premier and Cabinet. All government departments were to comply with the ‘Dignity and Respect in the Workplace Charter’, originally developed by Unions NSW.
As part of a team of researchers and writers within the (then) Dept. Juvenile Justice, I was charged with the task of researching and writing the policy and related procedures. To say I was excited to be authoring these policies is an understatement.
But I remember being deeply concerned, shocked even, by the lack of material available. I found the only people in the world effectively addressing the problem of workplace bullying and harassment. It was the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They were nine hours behind, so I was multi-tasking at 1am, breastfeeding my son.
I also questioned and listened to people being subjected to harmful behaviour across the government business sector.
The worst perpetrators are estimated to be 2-3% of staff but they cast a long shadow. We know approximately 49% of employees are on the wrong side of power abuse. Wherever I detected the power abuse, complexity and confusion ruled.
My son turned fifteen last month, three weeks after former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Professor Pru Goward, released her report titled ‘Review of policies and procedures for Ministerial offices – bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct’.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejikllian, who ordered the report, has described it as ‘brutal’.
Ms Goward’s report cites “power imbalances” and “high intensity and competitive workplaces” when backgrounding the problem. My research shows that people who thrive in highly intense, competitive workplaces are the ones most adept at claiming power.
When Ms Goward’s report came out, my first thought was of the survivors of ‘bullying and harassment’ across the lifespan of my children. Too many people have been subjected to the degrading, soul-destroying power abuses in their workplaces in NSW.
Incredibly, given these two reports, the figure is unknown. The necessary procedures and protections are so inadequate, we have not even captured the extent of the problem. We may never know the human cost, let alone cost to productivity over this time.
I finished the final Dignity and Respect Policy in 2008. It was the last project I completed before taking maternity leave with my second child. It might have been a direct response to the Recommendations in M`s Goward’s report, released thirteen years later.
Neither side of politics has nailed it yet.
Recognising, investigating, and identifying abuses of power, as has been done, is vital. However, it’s not a solution.
And the solutions being used are not supported by evidence. Current bullying and harassment interventions are mostly punitive. But a culture of blame, shame and finger-pointing kills relationships. It’s counterproductive. Even worse, it reinforces the power differentials in which bullying thrives. Relationships drive organisations.
In the thirteen years since I wrote those policies, I’ve been devoted to learning what works and doesn’t work and why. Now I am launching my own evidence-based training program. It equips people at every level with a new set of skills and the practice to use them.
Bullying is hard to detect. Although it thrives in hierarchical organisations, leaders cannot see it. We need to stop the behaviour, without sacrificing the relationships. My programs include a focus on inclusion and community. Because that’s what we want. Isn’t it?
Best practice is proving we can educate and support victims to navigate power abuse.
We want people to be able to stand up to bullying, misogyny and racism. I am showing them how. The 97-98% of typical employees can shut-down the problematic behaviours. And get back to work.
I envision a future scenario. I am holding my first grandchild while reading a report entitled, ‘How we eradicated bullying & harassment in Australian workplaces’.
Bullies won’t be a thing of the past—but they’ll no longer rule the roost.