Sexual harassment in the High Court

Dyson Heydon.

It’s an unusual name and one associated with power. As a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Dyson Heydon wielded power in the highest court in the land.

And now the name Dyson Heydon is associated with sexual harassment and a shattered reputation.

If you have seen the press in the past few days, you will know that an independent investigation commissioned by the High Court of Australia has upheld numerous allegations of sexual harassment against the former High Court Justice.

Since then, additional stories of harassment have come to light and it seems Mr Heydon’s reputation for predatory behaviour toward young women was a widely-known secret in legal circles.

What is it about powerful men and the bullying and harassment of younger women?

A study released in March by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, found that workplace sexual harassment occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level in Australian workplaces (see https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/publications/respectwork-sexual-harassment-national-inquiry-report-2020).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment are those in male-dominated industries. Of particular interest to me was the finding that workplaces with a higher risk of sexual harassment also include those with fewer women in senior positions.

The report also sets out the impact of sexual harassment on the workplace. Put simply, it is devastating for the victims and enormously costly for business.

We must have zero tolerance for the abuse of power. If it can happen in the upper echelons of society it can happen, and is happening, everywhere.

Dyson Heydon. An unusual name, and perhaps the name needed to start a #metoo movement in legal circles.

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Let’s get more women into senior roles so that there are more gender-balanced leadership teams and fewer workplaces in the higher risk categories for sexual harassment.

I have helped women to secure pay rises and promotions by coaching them in negotiation skills. Get in touch if you want to find out more.

 

 

 

 

Coming of age in a turbulent world

Next week, my beautiful, funny, clever, quirky middle child will become an adult.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the world she is facing at this milestone. She enters adulthood as the world is reeling from a pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout, and as worldwide protests rage about racism and police brutality.

Luckily, the genetic lottery means she will embrace adulthood with privileges many don’t have … she is white, she has a middle class family, she has received an excellent education, she has wonderful friends and she has a happy, supportive home life.

BUT … even with all that privilege, she will face discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions simply because she is a woman. With the Total Remuneration Gender Pay Gap in Australia currently standing at 20.8% (source: https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/the-gender-pay-gap), her lifetime earnings may be hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men her age. She may also face bullying and discrimination at levels not experienced by her male counterparts.

 

Last week, I spoke at a webinar about negotiating tips for women and was asked what I thought the future would hold –whether young women will face the discrimination and bias, and specifically the negotiating backlash, that generations before have faced.

I am hopeful that they won’t. I have seen the change in men’s attitudes over time and the growing confidence of young women. I think that Covid-19 isolation arrangements have also probably educated many men about the realities of life at home with small children. This can only help.

And yet, there is a long road to travel before unconscious bias has vanished.

In medicine for instance, there are more women entering medical schools than men, and yet it remains an industry dominated by men. There is some progress with campaigns like Operating with Respect, which was launched by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in 2015 to improve patient safety and counter bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment.

There are also informal campaigns like the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon, which is used to promote diversity in surgery as well as to highlight discriminatory behaviour. The hashtag has been circulating for several years but continues to get dozens of mentions every day on Twitter.

Nonetheless, discrimination remains. Yes, there has been a lot of progress, but the need to highlight and denounce gender, race, and other biases remains necessary.

 

So, what of my gorgeous girl? Next week, she becomes an adult and she is as ready as she can be. Let’s hope our training institutions, places of work, social norms and personal levels of awareness can treat her fairly. Let’s hope the turbulence and pain in the world at present will lead to a more equitable future for all.

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I offer a range of programs to help women and mixed teams improve their negotiation knowledge and skills. This includes one-on-one coaching, pre-conference programs and group training.

All of the programs are based on Sustainable Negotiation™, the approach I developed to move people from avoiding negotiation to engaging with it so that negotiation skills can be incorporated into everyday life.

Get in touch if you want to hear more about the programs and send me a message if you are interested in receiving a copy of my whitepaper, “Negotiation Skills as a Remedy for Gender Bias in Medicine”.

Cheap Remorse and Genuine Apology


The murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests and the reaction of those in power in the States have really been playing on my mind.

With 246 years of institutionalised slavery followed by the shameful Jim Crow laws, the USA has a very complex history and I feel ill-equipped to express an opinion, let alone make any meaningful contribution to the discussion. But I do know how to negotiate, and I have been wondering how I would go about negotiating an end to the protests.

Even there I’m a bit stumped to be honest. The power imbalance is just too stark – how can the response to protests about police brutality and violence be more police brutality and violence? It’s absolutely confounding.

In a mediation, we often ask “what do you need to make this right?” and, very often, the details of the settlement take a backseat to the apology.

But here’s the thing, the apology needs to be genuine.

A close friend of mine is a brilliant barrister and I always enjoy her descriptions of cases she is working on. A few years ago, she was heavily involved in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I recall her account of a witness describing “cheap remorse”, where a person or an institution makes a show of giving an apology to victims and then demands a pardon, without really demonstrating contrition.

Maybe this is at the heart of the emotionally charged conflict happening in the States right now. There have been apologies, of course, including the apologies made in the House of Representatives in 2008 and in the Senate in 2009 for slavery and the discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Even these apologies, however, did not lead to the passing of a joint bill.

Furthermore, these apologies came years after the official 1983 US apology for shielding a Nazi officer wanted for war crimes, the 1988 apology for the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII, and the 1993 apology for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Too little too late, perhaps.

As I’ve seen in mediation and as my friend saw at the Royal Commission, a genuine apology isn’t cheap, and it often needs to be delivered time and again. A genuine apology leads to change.

The generational pain and discrimination we are witnessing in the States can’t be fixed with “domination” by the descendants of those who initiated the pain and discrimination. This type of pain needs to start with a genuine apology.

While I am still somewhat stumped, if I were tasked with negotiating an end to the protests, the first step would be finding an independent mediator who is respected by representatives of both sides. I’d follow this with education until the oppressors finally understand the oppression, and I’d do this relentlessly so that any resultant apology is genuine.

With a genuine apology, perhaps the future could hold physical and emotional safety and economic equality.

On a final note, I know that here in Australia we see racism, injustice, discrimination and generational pain too. While the Australian government delivered a heartfelt apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the work of reconciliation is far from over.

RIP George Floyd.