This article is not about football. But it is about Adam Goodes and the countless others who face hostility, disapproval and derision in the course of their normal business.
So no, it isn’t about football. But it is about the football field and other places of work where people entertain, serve, educate, protect and heal. For Adam Goodes, the football field is no different from the office, hospital, warehouse, café or school where the majority of us work.
Too often places of work are not the safe or supportive environments we expect them to be. They harbour behaviours like bullying and discrimination from more senior managers, colleagues and even clients or customers. People on the receiving end hear the message that they don’t belong, have tried for too much, or should get back in their box. People like Adam Goodes. And anyone outside the majority group that takes its position of dominance, privilege or authority for granted.
The story that unfolded over the last few weeks is unusual in only one thing. It has played out so publicly that we are all confronted by it. In contrast, most instances of harassment, bullying or discrimination happen quietly in the background. Only those immediately involved are aware of what is going on. The misery of the victims is no less intense. The behaviour of the perpetrators no less despicable.
I have been close to several instances of such behavior over my long career as an organisational psychologist. At times it was overt and violent. A recently arrived migrant who complained about his work conditions was followed home, his tyres slashed. A woman who did not join in ‘the fun’ was assaulted and terrorised. These are not isolated incidents and they happened in respectable public sector organisations where I worked. And now we are hearing that not only Adam Goodes but many Indigenous sports women and men are quietly enduring taunts and slurs as a matter of course.
Let’s now consider the damage done. Individuals respond differently to hostility at work. When they are from a group or culture with a previous history of victimisation a new episode can be particularly devastating. It is not something to ‘get over’. Adam Goodes may not return to the football field. The woman in my story above quietly resigned out of embarrassment. She told me it was her fault.
The damage to the organisation as a whole is also severe. When even one person feels unsafe, the social climate is compromised for everyone. Trust is undermined and people retreat into their shells lest they be next. Even speaking up for the victim can expose another to similar treatment. This produces a poor environment for collaboration, creativity and excellence. The results do show through in loss of productivity, employee satisfaction and reputation.
I do not believe in isolated incidents. In my experience it is just the tip of the iceberg. The migrant worker in my story worked in a public hospital that was wracked with discrimination against newly arrived groups. The management was aware and working hard to stamp it out. The woman who resigned worked in Defence, where discrimination against women operated on many levels for a very long time.
Like the AFL, Defence has also had its woes, played out in public. However, the recent actions of senior officers such as David Morrison show the way for other organisations. Morrison and his colleagues have made this a leadership issue. Unequivocally, equity and acceptance are the values in action. They have made it clear that anyone not comfortable with this should leave.
I have not kept count, but surely there are 36 reasons in this article to end discrimination. The 37th belongs to Noel Pearson who said recently: ‘We have to summon up a better Australia than we often show ourselves to be’.
There is an antidote to the negativity. The best workplaces are proactive in preventing hostile or discriminatory behaviours. They foster a positive work climate where people feel welcomed, included and valued. If you would like practical advice on how you can build a work climate like this, please contact me via Linked In.