Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Slutwalk does not equal slack

If only big corporates could master the clarity of message that the Sydney 'slut walkers' were able to achieve yesterday. Whether the women themselves were dressed demurely, provocatively or not dressed much at all, their message was the same. Hemlines are not guidelines and the difference between sex and rape is consent; which should not be at all difficult to fathom.
Dare I say it but these are the straight forward issues, or should be because no style of dress is an invitation for unwelcome sexual attention much less an invitation for assault.
For me the trickier issue to navigate is holding true to the principles of consent, individuality and fashion as a form of self expression whilst demanding legitimately that men and women at work dress and act "professionally". In other words, no woman should be exploited or objectified because of how she dresses but a company should reserve the right to ask her to dress in keeping with a professional workplace; not because failure to do so is licence for a "grope and hope" but because no one else should be embarrassed or uncomfortable to work in her presence. Asking people to abide by a number of appropriate cultural workplace norms is no different from asking them to abide by other rules, policies and conditions of their employment. A deep concern that this diminishes or restricts them unnaceptably probably means they should go the route of the independent consultant and be a law unto themselves (and any clients who may hire them).
My consistent observation is that women who are perceived to exploit their femininity and sexuality to get ahead are likely to be resented by other women at work who want to be valued for their intellect and skills. Just as it's too convenient (and immoral) to look at a woman's style of dress and interpret that as an automatic invitation for sex, it is too convenient to write off women's opposition to oversexual dress and behaviour as nothing more than petty jealousy.
Without the evocative drama of the word, 'slut walkers' may never have got the attention their cause deserves. This should not be confused with the legitimate right of organisations to set a tone and tenor for their staff that serves them well in respect of brand and reputation, client image and respectability.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Something Magical about Majak

When the AFL started getting serious in the late 90's about racial vilification, I was more than a tad cynical. I was sure the powers that be were authentic in wanting to create a more hospitable culture for aboriginal players (the prominent minority at the time) but I believed the zeal was probably borne out of the desire to choose from a bigger talent pool of potential players; particularly as some of the pioneering indigenous players like Michael Long and Nicky Winmar were so exciting to watch and contributed so much. Slowly but surely people touched by these players through their mutual love of sport began to understand how racism strikes at the core of a person and dishonours them.

I am sure players themselves have grown a great deal playing alongside those of so many cultural and racial backgrounds. There is nothing like the collective striving for a prized goal that creates cohesion and dulls the differences between team members.

There was another momentary glitch a few years ago when commentators began talking up their reverse bigotry; constantly referring to many indigenous players as 'gifted' and freakishly talented. Then we saw an article in the print media reminding us all that these aboriginal players work so hard at their craft and would not remain professional footballers if they didn't. To say it all comes so easily is to diminish the work done by them and those who mentor them to be virtuosos of the game. Again, we were given cause for pause.

And so to the present day and a young man of Sudanese origin, Majak Daw, a role model to his people and a man proud to call Australia his second home, is vilified by a few ignorant people at a football match. And we have witnessed almost universal condemnation and so should we because while people who harbour such views may not all be quieted, they need to know their outward manifestations of such bigoted views in a public place will not be tolerated by others. It is from the outcry by ordinary spectators that the children of those who would mock and taunt out of ignorance and jealousy may begin to understand that heading down the same path will get them nowhere and will cause them to be isolated. Let the bigots watch TV and scream abuse from the comfort and sanctity of their couches at home for we won't change them all but we don't want them at our stadia and on the sidelines at our local footy matches.

Media commentators have far too much influence but how refreshing it is when they use it to send the right messages.

I wrote a number of years ago about the Des Hedland/Adam Selwood sexual harassment case. I said that the football field is the players' workplace and they deserve "quiet" enjoyment of it. Sadly we have a way to go regarding respect on gender grounds but we are kicking goals in relation to racial vilification.

We get the behaviour we are prepared to put up with. We get the culture we deserve. I am no longer cynical. I believe we stand taller now than we did before Majak.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fair Work fine for texting a termination sends a clear message

Fair Work Australia Commissioner Cambridge has ruled that a boutique owner who texted a "Don't Come Monday" message to a two-year employee behaved in a "pretty appalling" way and that her termination via SMS was deemed unfair. The boutique owner was fined almost $10,000 in back pay. The Fair Work Australia ruling found that there had not been any valid reason (relating to conduct, capacity or operational requirements of the business) to justify the dismissal. The Commissioner found the owner had likely become irate and vindictive after the sacked employee, Sedina Sokolovic, took it upon herself two days before her sacking to change shifts with another worker during which $5000 worth of goods were stolen from the shop on the other employee's watch.

No one insinuated Sedina or the other worker were involved in the theft and the Commissioner concluded there had been no feedback to Sedina alleging inadequate conduct or performance until the owner learnt the goods had been stolen, sacked her and then had to justify the dismissal.

As much as the case elucidates the importance of a valid reason and a fair process in determining the future of an employee's work relationship, the case is an illustration in poor emotional intelligence and specifically emotional control. The owner seemed to want to retaliate for the fact that goods had been stolen and paid out on Miss Sokolovic with no adequate justification. Of relevance to the Commissioner was the fact that there was no link in the text message to serious misconduct and none was provided at the hearing. By firing Ms Sokolovic by text, her employer denied her the chance to respond or explain; a key plank in procedural fairness.