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I expected the ‘Creating Safe Spaces at Work’ virtual conference to be interesting. How could it fail to be with it’s eclectic range of speakers, all giving their time for free, to share and explore what we can all do in service of workplace kindness?
What I didn’t expect was for it to be so emotive. My usual note taking was put aside, as I was immersed in some deeply personal accounts of workplace bullying and harrassment from Jonathan Wilson and Leatham Green, and reflections on the pervasiveness of bias and discrimination from Gethin Nadin. (Each unique but compelling in their presentation format). The empathy from the audience (remember, this was a virtual event) was palpable, with humble curiosity and overwhelming support evident in the chat room.
What also surprised me was the nature of bullying. I clearly had an outdated perception of workplace bullying – silly tricks, nicknames, perhaps workload unfairly allocated etc. Marie Hemingway, from We Are Speak Out, shared the results of an ongoing survey showing that ‘gaslighting’ is the most prevelant form, closely followed by micro-aggressions.
Ashton Hewitt spoke about his past experiences as a rugby player – name calling by some team mates, and inferences and comments about his clothing. Often masked by the term ‘banter’. He and Patrick were also able to share how different it is at Dragons Rugby and how that’s been achieved. (Patrick will be writing about this seperately)
While the impact of bullying is tragic, and it would be easy to condemn those who bully, a question that surfaced for me was ‘what enables someone to act this way?’ What enables someone in a work or team environment to feel that their undermining, passive aggressive, or overtly aggressive behaviour is acceptable? Would they behave like that in different life scenarios? Do they talk to their parents/ or children in that way?
Alex Killick, event host, shared a fabulous Japanese proverb ‘The fish rots from the head’. The responsibility for the culture, and behaviour that exists in your organisation or team starts with the leader. But what I found even more interesting, in the chat someone raised ‘A fish actually rots from the guts’. By shifting the emphasis to the heart of the organisation, the reponsibility for challenging unkindness at work sits with us all.
“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept” is attributed to 2016 Australian of the Year Lieutenant-General David Morrison, Chief of the Australian Army (from a speech he made as part of his campaign to champion gender equality).
How many of us have been complicit in enabling harrassment? We’d probably instinctively say ‘no! not me!’. But the legal definition of harrassment is ‘unwanted conduct’ – if it offends, it’s harrassment.
So if we’ve joined in on banter, or ignored microaggressions from one person to another, maybe we wouldn’t all be so vehement in our denial. Maybe we need to turn up our challenge dial, at the same time as turning up our kindness radar, to make workplaces feel safer for everyone.