Opinion from Peter Saxon
For over 5,000 years of civilisation humankind has been trying to work out a construct that will allow men and women to interact in a way that will benefit both as well as society as a whole. After all that time, it remains a work in progress. And with the current spate of big names accused of sexual misconduct, some might say, it remains a work with b-all progress.
For all of those years it’s been a mans’ world with feminism starting its long march towards equality only in the last century when women won the right to vote across Australia in 1902. At times, change has been agonisingly slow, punctuated by some great leaps forward such as the invention of the contraceptive pill that gave women control over their bodies as well as computerised machinery and office equipment that took women out of the typing pool and away from the telephone switchboard and onto heavy lift cargo cranes or into the sales department.
As odious as recent events, involving men like Bob Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and now Don Burke, might seem right now, they may just turn out to be another great leap, if not the greatest leap forward for women yet.
Finally, every privileged predator, whether exposed already or is yet to be exposed, has had a huge wake up call. So, how do we make sure they smell the coffee and that sexual harassment is banished from the workplace for good?
The first thing we need to do is to fix the workplace. Clearly, sleaze bags like Don Burke and Hey Dad star Robert Hughes (left) could not have got away with what they did for so long had their bosses intervened at an early stage. The recurring allegation from victims of workplace bullying is that when they complained to senior executives they were brushed aside and had it made clear to them that they were expendable while their tormentor was a cash cow for the company keeping them all in work.
The only way to change corporate culture is to change what’s happening on the ground by making it more expensive to keep supporting the culprits than to dump them.
In that respect, social media has been a massive game changer. Prior to the advent of social media the largest penalty handed down to an errant radio station by the official media watchdog, the ACMA, was around $325,000.
Today online portals such as Change.org can mobilise tens of thousands of disgruntled consumers who pass judgment within few hours, whereas it would take the ACMA months. Also, by warning off advertisers who react by cancelling schedules, these online vigilantes can mete out a swift financial penalty that dwarfs anything that the ACMA has ever imposed. The effect on stations can run as high as $20 million in lost revenue.
Over the past decade, corporations have become acutely aware of the potential losses that can emanate from an irate public.
Happily, like the Freemantle Doctor, a cool change is already sweeping in. Within hours of the first allegations against Kevin Spacey, Netflix sensing a subscriber backlash, stopped production of it’s flagship political drama House of Cards and vowed it will continue only without Spacey. Amazon acted in a similar fashion with Transparent star Jeffery Tambor (left).
Here in Australia, in just the past 24 hours, Nine Network CEO, Hugh Marks has announced a raft of new policies to weed out bullies by taking complaints seriously both through internal procedures and an independent firm that specialises in workplace relations.
In a memo to all staff, reproduced in full at the foot of this page, Mr Marks wrote: “As much as we might like to, sometimes we unfortunately cannot rewrite history. But we can and will take steps to ensure that former employees, perhaps with old grievances, are supported.”
Burke started his career at 2UE in1983. He was back there for a few hours on weekends in 2008, But he didn’t last long as complaints against him began to mount. At 2UE, management reportedly made an effort to protect female staff by rostering only male producers to work with him.
Around the same time, it was understood among radio circles that legendary “king maker” John Brennan was not a fan of any kind of office romance, even between consenting adults. The rule was that if you became romantically involved with another staff member, one of you would have to resign.
Brenno’s rule may sound harsh but many organisations have similar rules in place because they believe that an intimate relationship between work colleagues can affect the entire office dynamic and will likely have an impact on other staff.
Meanwhile academia is calling for a ban between university lecturers and students because, reports the SMH, “the massive power imbalance meant that students were unable to freely consent to sexual activity with lecturers, tutors and supervisors.”
Perhaps it’s a moral decision or, in this litigious age, a financial one. Either way, after 5,000 years, the power balance between men and women, at least in the workplace, may reach equilibrium.
Hugh Marks’ memo to Nine Network staff:
In light of the appalling allegations this week of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct by Don Burke I wanted to write to all staff to reaffirm Nine’s commitment to maintaining a culture that is inclusive, supportive and respectful.
In part we do this through our Nine Learning training programs. Thanks to all those that have participated. To those who haven’t please ensure you complete the assigned modules.
But importantly it is fundamental that as a team we all share some simple expectations. And it is in this context that we all accept our role in ensuring we have and maintain a culture that has zero tolerance of inappropriate workplace behaviour. Everyone is entitled to come to work at Nine confident that our workplace is safe and that inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with effectively.
Nine has a number of policies and procedures in place to ensure expectations in relation to behaviour in the workplace are clear. We also have clear guidelines on how we manage grievances, misconduct and support staff if any such concerns arise. Your team leaders and Nine’s HR team have the resources and tools needed to respond effectively and follow clear guidelines when dealing with misconduct, harassment, discrimination and bullying issues. There are also clear procedures to be followed if someone has a grievance to report.
As you are aware, on top of these internal systems Nine partners with Converge International to provide you with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help you deal with any challenges, concerns or issues that may be affecting you at work or at home. You can contact this confidential service directly on 1300 687 327 or via email: at [email protected]. The service is available from 8.00am — 6.00pm Monday to Friday.
All of these policies and guidelines apply to everyone associated with Nine. That includes our staff, contractors, subcontractors, agents, consultants and temporary staff. Copies of these policies and procedures are available on the intranet under the Human Resources tab.
As much as we might like to, sometimes we unfortunately cannot rewrite history. But we can and will take steps to ensure that former employees, perhaps with old grievances, are supported. So we have set up a unique phone line for them to call 1300 554 818 and will provide an independent counselling service to report instances of past behaviour they would like addressed. Former Nine employees with complaints simply provide their personal contact details and HR will follow up directly on a strictly confidential basis. The counselling will be provided at no cost to them and Nine will support the person to work through any issues that relate to their time at Nine.
It’s my job as CEO, and that of your senior leaders, to ensure that people who have been treated poorly will be heard, and that they will get appropriate support if they need it. Any matters which are raised and require further action will be addressed appropriately either internally or, if required, externally of Nine.
This is an important issue for all Australian workplaces. I believe Nine can take a strong leadership role in our industry to make sure we do the right thing by our people, now, and into the future.