Is the council a Hotbed of Sex Pestering?

The question that should be asked is “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Considering the percentage of women & men who endure it, wouldn’t it be more surprising if it weren’t occurring?

The recent media reports of a high court judge illustrate that even in the most prestigious of places disparity of power seems to irresistibly lead to the festering of this ugly abuse

And gross imbalance of power within councils is illustrated by the recent case of a mayor from Melbourne City who had various accusations from several women upheld by an enquiry

One of the disturbing things in these incidents was the length of time it took for the women to receive some sort of justice

And wouldn’t the recent incident our Councilor Joe Natoli experienced of what some would consider organizational “political bullying” be indicative of the presence of the precursor to sex harassment, intimidation?

Why Don’t we Know?

The things that seem to universally exist within it is the unwillingness of many of the victims to “out” it because of the career & social consequences of doing so

And the pressure put on them to not proceed because of the explanations to them of the impact this would have on their “futures” & the often lack of objective evidence with their word being no match for that of their probably much more influential abuser

Plus, the extreme difficulty of getting it dealt with in a fair & understanding way

All these elements were seemingly present in the alleged incidents within council early this year which lead to the resignation of the CEO

Although there was no indication from council that sexual harassment was involved & no reason to think there was`, the paradigm with which the matter was dealt with seems to fit the pattern that often allows abuse to continue within an organization

There seemed to a certain inappropriate “paternalism” in the responses given to the compliants, lack of evidence was cited as a reason the matter wasn’t proceeded with & there was perhaps an inordinate delay that sometimes cause complainants to rethink the consequences or they just move on

Bearing in mind that the ultimate liability & costs will accrue to the ratepayers, council should scrupulously ensure that not only is the matter dealt with, but it is open & transparent in allowing it to be seen to be dealt with most assiduously

The Individual vs Corporate Responsibility

To speak of the matter not being dealt with in order to protect the confidentiality of individuals ignores the fact that it is exactly this that allows abusers to continue victimizing subordinates not only where they are but to move onto other places to perpetuate it

The most often response of those who have reported being harassed is that they won’t do it again because of the way it consumes their work & personal lives in an almost perpetual re-explanation to their work colleagues & management apparatus of what is traumatic events with often quiet graphic descriptions of the actual happenings

The statistics are that 1 in 3 women & 15% of men have been subjected to sexual harassment in the last 5 years

In certain very male dominated industries like the law it rises to 1 in 2 women & the bigger the gender imbalance in top management the greater is the propensity for this to fester

So, what is the probability there is a problem within council?

Is it fair to say that there is an extraordinary gender imbalance in top management & probably within the overall staff numbers?

Are there some observable traits in management which would indicate there is a culture of bully & intimidation?

Do many workers operate in mixed gender group far from sensor supervisors?

Has there ever been a thorough audit of the experiences of staff by an independent, reputable & preferably non-local HR company?

What incidents have been reported in the past? Was there a pattern to these? What action was taken? Who do they get reported to both initially & to whom does it get referred?

Generally, we must begin from the position, given the statistics, that it is likely to be occurring

There is a requirement in Australian law that enterprises take proactive measures to deal with this issue, in my opinion this must be more so in community owned entities like councils where the workers are also part of that community & the ratepayers who are the ultimate owners of councils should be concerned to provide a safe & efficient workplace

Because it should be seen that where harassment is almost imbedded in the culture of an organization that organization will continually be drained of its best & brightest who have greater alternatives & motivation to escape toxic environments

This does mean less efficacy as experience & talent moves on often without explanation of why they are leaving

Who is surviving it?

If you know 6 working women, chances are at least one or more is enduring it now

Bearing in mind that the stat that 1 in 3 women have been subjected to it in the last 5 years, doesn’t mean that it happened to each only once in those 5 years

For some it will have been an every day occurrence for those 1825 days

And they probably won’t talk about it, because they will lost control of the impact it will have on their lives

The normal responses they will get like “you should resign”, report it or punch them in the face, are all options that have been already considered

Being pressured to take one of those makes the dilemma worse for anyone skating safely a thin edge of economic & social survival

Pick Why on the Council, it’s Everywhere?

That may well be the case, but ratepayers only bear direct responsibility & liability ethically & financially for what goes on in the council they own

What happens in private enterprises must be the preserve of the owners & their insurers to assess what actions they need to take

Community groups may well need to institute protocols required by council if they receive council support or endorsement

But we should not be assuaged by bellicose cries that these considerations besmirch the many fine people who work for council

It should be acknowledged that the vast majority of workers are not abusers, but those who are most often are serial offenders who have a great impact on the lives of far too many of those they work with

Nor should we be at all intimidated by some “token” assurance by gender selected spoke people as to the non-occurrence of this issue “in their experience”

This may be a result of their position making their vulnerability less than that of lower ranks or that they are following some misguided idea of protection their organisation’s reputation, often with considerable coercion from their maybe other gender superiors

The worse the situation within an organization the more likely this is to happen

Because it has been neglected for so long the first & urgent thing to do is call in a very established & reputable HR auditor from interstate

Establish one councilor in an organizational Welfare Portfolio, to be responsible for the well-being of all the council’s employees as a surrogate for the ratepayers’ responsibility for this

Tighten up the council’s internal reporting system so once the HR receives a complaint it is dealt with in a sympathetic way, acknowledging the difficulty complainants have coming forward

The issues should never be referred up the management chain, where they are likely to come into conflict with other agendas, & be put in the hands of people with no training or experience in these matters

If HR cannot resolve the matter it should be referred out to independent mediators

Whatever else needs doing is up to the experts to decide

But aren’t we now in the realm of “should have known”, that all the indicators have been observed, future questions to management may be how they could not have known?

And this vastly increases liability for prolonging the abuse some may be suffering

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