Diversity 101 – EEO, bullying & harassment

by 17 Nov 2011

For many organisations the diversity journey begins with legal compliance around EEO, bullying and harassment. The communication of policies and procedures that have been developed play a crucial role in guiding a workplace to being more respectful, however it is the knowledge and skills that are imparted to staff that are critical to ensuring an inclusive workplace that will be accepting of diversity in all its forms.

It is hard to believe that in 2011 organisations still weigh up the cost of skilling staff in the area of equal employment, bullying and against the likelihood of a claim occurring. As human beings we all have bias, both conscious and unconscious and as a result it is a fair assumption to make that at some point a negative opinion will be formed about someone or a group of people based upon race, religion, gender, age or disability without knowing all the facts, and inappropriate behaviour will result. It is never a question of if this behaviour is likely to occur; it is always a question of when this behaviour will occur.

Organisations need to be committed to developing the knowledge, understanding and skills of individuals across all levels of the organisation. Often organisations opt for a quick and easy fix either in the form of a short online program that covers the key components of the legislation or a video for all new employees to watch during induction. This does not guarantee a deeper level of understanding around the core competencies of respect and equal opportunity. To ensure that organisations maximise their return on investment when implementing diversity and inclusion strategies, significant resources need to be allocated to this basic cornerstone of building an inclusive workplace.

Diversity@Work recommends the following approach:

1. Review existing policies and procedures

Reviewing your existing employment policies and procedures is an opportunity to identify any gaps and update according to the most recent legislative changes. It is important to have this review completed prior to any awareness campaign being implemented.

2. Start from the top down

All too often senior executives and indeed board and council members are not encouraged to develop and refresh their skills and knowledge in this area. Employers are responsible for ensuring that the working environment is free from destructive and unethical behaviour. A presentation to senior and executive managers is an opportunity to discuss, illustrate and emphasise the importance of respect in the workplace. In particular the role of the law and the protection it offers needs to be covered in relation to the creation of a happy, safe and compliant work environment. This is an opportunity for Executive Leadership Teams to hear first-hand how organisations and their employees benefit from a proactive approach to EEO, bullying and harassment. This can also be used as an opportunity to address appropriate professional behaviours and the existing workplace culture.

3. Build a proactive culture

It is not unusual for organisations to see a spike in activity around claims and reports immediately following the launch of the campaign. Anyone within the organisation that holds responsibility for staff must know the law and possess the skills to interpret and apply it properly. It is critical that managers are familiar with the law and best practice. In order to manage risk as well as develop a proactive approach to equal opportunity, bullying and harassment, managers need to be equipped with the tools to resolve complaints effectively.

4. Invest in a supportive structure

Contact Officers are an important element of the support structure within organisations and often need an upgrade of their skills and knowledge within the EEO arena. Training will further shore up and improve confidence to support internal staff in recognising and dealing with internal issues around EEO.

5. Ensure questions can be asked

An investment in effective face to face training for all staff ensures that participants are not only able to respond effectively and confidently to Equal Opportunity legislation requirements and related workplace behavioural issues but also ask questions to clarify their own interpretations. Face to face facilitation provides the opportunity to learn through case studies, observation and most importantly the sharing of experiences to reinforce knowledge.

About the author

Donna de Zwart is the general manager of Diversity@Work. For more information please visit  www.diversityatwork.com.au


  • by Bernie Althofer 24/11/2011 11:35:52 AM

    It seems to me that organisations who take a 'silo' approach to introducing key initiatives involving diversity, only increase the level of risk exposure. All too often, good intentions fall by the wayside because related systems and processes have not been changed.
    The five key areas identified are important. However, they should not been seen as separate or 'stepping stones' to the next. They are integrated and have to be flexible, and need to function collectively, not independently.
    Some organisations may do each of the five stages, but in isolation with no strategic view of how they fit.
    Reviewing policies and procedures is critical given the constantly changing environment in which the public and private sectors operate. Court, Commission and Tribunal decisions, along with current research or even Review findings need to be considered in these reviews. Consideration also has to be given regarding the time required to review the policies and procedures.
    Getting executive involvement and commitment may be difficult if diversity is viewed as only one of many risks to be managed. Creating ownership and having an executive as a sponsor can help. However, the commitment might be influenced by the workplace culture. In some organisations, it might the case that the executive provide the communication that they are committed. However, workers tell a different story, particularly when it comes to how the policy is actually implemented.
    Having a supportive structure with contact officers is important. However, there may be some line managers and even workers who see this network as a way of avoiding responsibility for doing anything. For example, unless both those working the support network have a clear understanding of the parameters in which they operate, and line managers and workers also understand this, it can be 'convenient' to pass a diversity issue over to the network for resolution.
    Whilst some organisations may have a preference for online training, or other forms of self paced learning, face to face learning does create that opportunity for participants to clarify their understanding. Story telling based on Reviews, and even Court, Commission or Tribunal decisions can provide participants opportunities gain a more indepth understanding of what is an important topic with links to so many other systems and processes.

  • by Bernie Althofer 25/11/2011 12:00:28 PM

    Workplace bullying and harassment allegations can strike fear and concern into workplaces. There are probably many reasons why it continues to flourish. However, as I have indicated in similar forums, in my experience there are two contributing factors and that is management practices and communication. Whilst there can be finger pointing at management, the complex nature of bullying can mean from time to time that even minor workplace conflict can be identified as bullying.
    Understanding what is and what is not bullying or harassment continues to frustrate officers and workers. For example, the Prevention of Workplace Harassment Code of Practice 2004, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland states that:
    (1) A person is subjected to “workplace harassment” if the person is subjected to repeated behaviour, other than behaviour amounting to sexual harassment, by the person’s employer or a co-worker or group of co-workers of the person that-
    (a) is unwelcome and solicited; and
    (b) the person considers to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening; and
    (c) a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

    Whilst organisational policies and procedures may reflect this definition, getting line managers and supervisors to understand this in line with the myriad of other organisational 'compliance' documents e.g. Codes of Conduct etc can be problematic if a silo approach has been taken in promoting the workplace bullying/harassment policy.

    Ensuring that line managers and supervisors have the required knowledge, skills and ability to manage a range of people issues e.g. workplace conflict including bullying and harassment can be overlooked if they are being rewarded for achieving outcomes.

    Whilst is is important for the organisation to have a diversity policy and to address issues of bullying and harassment, it is important to ensure that line managers and supervisors receive appropriate and relevant training on the topic.

  • by Bernie Althofer 30/11/2011 4:40:34 PM

    There are some discussions on others forums in relation to the possibility that the Federal Government is considering the laws in relation to workplace bullying by making it a criminal offence, in line with "Brodie's Law" in Victoria.

    If this is the case, and legislation is enacted across Australia at a Federal level, it will no doubt require organisations to reconsider a raft of issues in relation to their workplace bullying policies.

    Given that some workplace bullying incidents involve behaviours such as verbal and physical assaults, cyber stalking and even sexual assaults resulting in physical and psychological trauma, how will workplaces address a change in the standard of proof required.

    The key points raised by Donna are still valid. However, the complexity of advice given to officers and workers will need to reflect such changes.

    Whilst it appears that these proposed changes are only being discussed at this stage, and whilst some States are reviewing their current approaches, it is important that organisations start having similar discussions based on "What happens if the law changes?" and "Will our policies and procedures meet the new requirements?"