How to tackle the trickle down of sexist culture that can hurt your people, your productivity and your company’s bottom line.

Tracey Spicer, Irin Carmen, Jenna Wortham and Sophie Black leading their panel discussion 'This is not a moment, it's a movement' at the 2018 Sydney Writers' Festival. 

Tracey Spicer, Irin Carmen, Jenna Wortham and Sophie Black leading their panel discussion 'This is not a moment, it's a movement' at the 2018 Sydney Writers' Festival. 

For anyone who thought that the #metoo movement had lost momentum, last week’s 'This is not a moment, it's a movement' panel discussion at the Sydney Writers’ Festival proved otherwise. 

Panel members Tracey Spicer, Irin Carmon, Jenna Wortham and Sophie Black led a robust discussion with audience members about the challenges women face in dealing with workplace harassment and discrimination. One key challenge is the emotional exhaustion faced by all women trying to speak up – as an example, Tracey Spicer described the difficulty of publicly calling out harassment.

She discussed that even with recorded evidence, women are often not believed, and specifically with Australia’s strong defamation laws any published accusations must be stringently researched and offer definitive proof that is often unattainable. This, along with many other points discussed, are highly important matters that need to be raised, as to create meaningful solutions people need to feel listened to and have their concerns validated and understood.

Meanwhile, at last weeks AHRI I & D conference  in Sydney, the #metoo theme that it’s time to take D & I action to build organisation capability and performance was reinforced by Australian thought leaders and AHRI award winners. They are continuing to display innovative and effective ways to harness and leverage Australia’s workforce diversity to improve their business performance.

However, this is not yet always the case as sadly too often organisations get stuck in 'old' conversations that may result in leaders doing nothing, walking on eggshells, or playing around the edges of the issue. Often even if they do take action, they can end up in an 'us and them' conversation and possibly face backlash from groups of staff, often men, feeling disenfranchised.

Such an instance was experienced at the Sydney Writers' Festival panel, where a male audience member angrily voiced the real concern of many that innocent men were at risk of having their reputations and livelihoods ruined through trial by twitter as part of #metoo. Such issues need to be effectively understood and addressed by leaders to build awareness to encourage new conversations and develop solutions that are inclusive for everyone, thereby avoiding divisive or angry responses.

Organisations can no longer afford to ignore the issue of having a sexist and discriminatory work culture. Just look at what recently happened at Nike, where female employees mobilised as a group and spoke out together about the organisation’s sexist and discriminatory culture. This story made front page news across the world, with a large and measurable negative impact and an unprecedented six senior executives leaving the company within weeks of the revelations being made public - collective action does have real power.

This impact extends beyond the brand itself and its reputation, having also it seems influenced their effective decision-making and innovation. Whilst Nike is the largest sports footwear and apparel company world-wide, their women’s sector only constitutes about a fifth of their operations. When you consider that the female segment is the fastest growing in the active-wear market, their limited success suggests a problem with innovation and effective marketing in the women’s sector, likely due to their diversity struggles.  

With these issues in mind, I loved the reframing by notable Australian feminist and writer Eva Cox in the audience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival panel, who cut through and reframed the discussion from ‘How do we stop that man from doing that to us?’, to ‘How do we stop men feeling like they’re entitled to do this to us?’ Yes, we need to start with young boys, but in the meantime, we also need to shift the system.

Leaders can start by creating a code of conduct that people are held accountable to, that sets the expectations of employee behaviour. This is ideally supported by organisational values, alongside appropriate consequences in place for employees who do not live up to the standards of behaviour expected.

So how do you take action and shift the dial?       

Five important questions to consider are:

·       Does your workforce and leadership group represent the diversity of the community you serve? If not, why not?

·       Are you valuing and leveraging your workforce diversity to increase business performance?

·       At what stage is your organisation on the D & I cultural maturity continuum?

·       Do you have a vision of the workplace culture you wish to create for everyone?

·       Do your leaders and staff have the mindset, knowledge, skills and behaviours to manage and work effectively in diverse teams?

If you would like further assistance in taking effective action, please review these case studies or drop us a line.

Image via Jamie Williams: The Guardian