Bullying, sexual harassment and culture change
The publication of Dame Margaret Bazley’s
into unacceptable behaviour at law firm Russell McVeagh has provoked a sharp response from barrister Catriona MacLennan, who rejects a number of Dame Margaret’s conclusions regarding the importance of alcohol and a “work hard, play hard” culture at the firm. In particular, she takes issue with Dame Margaret’s view that it could take ten years to implement large-scale culture change.
“It is actually very simple,” she
in Stuff. “All Russell McVeagh and other law firms have to do is offer women lawyers the same pay as they offer men when they hire them. Appoint women and men to partnerships according to the same criteria. And do not sexually harass female lawyers and interns. There is nothing hard about any of this. Describing it as a difficult process that requires a long time to implement is simply an excuse for either doing nothing, or for doing very little.”
The report is a disturbing account of organisational culture and behaviour, but from a health & safety perspective two questions spring to my mind.
First, is psychological harm on the radar of health & safety practitioners? I suspect not. Probably most of them would hasten to flick the responsibility to HR. But if the core mission of H&S is to prevent harm by identifying risks and doing something about them, then psychosocial risk should be right up there on the risk register. Because the harm it causes is horribly real.
Second, how long does culture change take? This is a question of great interest to H&S practitioners, who often find their best efforts are thwarted because their organisation is not yet at the appropriate point on some so-called maturity curve. Catriona MacLennan reckons it ought to take a hell of a lot less than ten years, provided the key barriers to change are clearly identified. I would certainly like to think so.
Peter, I'm inclined to agree. There are seemingly many barriers that appear when its not really that difficult. Yes gender should be irrelevant but as its evolved from history where men were in charge as it were there lies the resistance I guess. Her prognosis is mental stress basically and is of interest to us practitioners as I've known both males and females abandon their careers because of it in their workplaces. We all know of far more serious solutions that people have taken in despair. A few years ago a female professional on LinkedIn found herself the subject of very inappropriate comments from males based solely upon her profile picture which was naturally extremely distressing for the lady and undermined what she was attempting to achieve on a professional level. I have a daughter much like many others and I say to her as she's only young that her gender is of no concern and that she can achieve whatever she wants to set her mind to but to know that she will no doubt encounter gender bias because she's female and often a woman will have to work twice as hard as an equivalent male just to achieve the same end result. Its not what I should be saying to her but I need her to be aware that that is the hard reality even today. Both genders can work hard and play hard should they desire but not to the detriment of any other person, that's not to say I encourage alcohol in the workplace as this always leads to all manner of issues but its really not that difficult to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself and that is with respect and courtesy. A large amount of this indifference is borne out of the playground as children during those formative years I'm inclined to think....talent, merit, skill, ability are not dependent upon any bias.....and should be equally rewarded without bias and with equality. Arguably, the same exists when we practitioners attempt to change some aspect of safety....there appears the barriers, barriers against an existing culture which is why I feel behavioural safety and psychology to be a significant aspect of our work today. The word culture is often misused and abused disguising an unjustified resistance...I can only imagine what Maggie Thatcher would have gone through becoming a female Prime Minister in the late 1970's in the UK in charge of the hallowed halls of Whitehall and seats of government that most likely scoffed at first....my two penneth...
Peter, cultural change will take as long as it has to, depending on the willingness of the business and its workers to change. Companies with entrenched beliefs, supported by rigid organisational structures and policies will take a long time, and the journey will be disruptive and painful. Companies with the opposite “qualities” are likely already in the cultural change process.
In relation to the Russell McVeagh inquiry, it is useful to note the Australian experience illustrated in today’s media stories about women partners and recruits in law firms.
On the matter of OHS and psychological harm, the OHS sector has been ignoring the hazard for decades as, partly, it is easier to deal with visible injuries caused between a person and a thing. Harm resulting from Person to person interaction can be uncomfortable, difficult and without a clear resolution. It was easier to leave this to HR and hope they could fix it, whatever “it” was.
We have to be careful, though, to only think of work-related psychological harm as only coming from person to person. To truly reduce or eliminate the potential harm, businesses must look at the “ways of business” (as John Berger looked at “Ways of Seeing”) - the structures that create the conditions that foster bad behaviour, the rosters and IR negotiations that allow for “unsafe” hours, the systems that pay off workers for accepting unsafe or unreasonable working conditions, the accommodation of unsafe practices rather than improving safety......
Great start to the SafeGuard blog experience. Best of luck.
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