Rachael Porthouse
April 10, 2023
toxic workplace culture

NSW Government Proves Why Culture Audits Matter.

Last week the results of a review into the NSW government’s workplace culture were published and the results deserved it’s own press conference by the NSW state premier Dominic Perrottet describing the findings, “sobering, confronting and completely unacceptable”. This review demonstrates the importance of conducting culture audits in all workplaces, as well as opening the door for more enquiries to be funded in order to continue the investigations of safety in Australian workplaces.

This important investigation into parliamentary workplace culture has uncovered disturbing findings. The review conducted by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick published last week included responses from one quarter of NSW parliamentary workers. It showed that 1 in 5 of these respondents have experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the past 5 years, where two thirds of these alleged incidents, the alleged perpetrator was “senior” to the victim. The report also revealed vulnerable parties are women and specific cohorts, such as young people and LGBTIQ+ people and described bullying as “systemic”. Many respondents who had experienced sexual harassment and bullying had described the effect on their parliamentary career and their own mental health as “devastating”.  

This isn’t the first-time culture audits have showed shocking and disturbing results, with the mining industry experiencing a very similar outcome in 2021. The 2020 Respect@Work Report found that 40 per cent of mining workers had experienced sexual harassment at work with women twice as likely to experience sexual harassment than their male counterparts at 74 percent, compared to 33 percent. The mining industry’s male dominated workforce, remote nature, high proportion of fly-in and fly-out workers and the role of alcohol have all been linked as contributing factors to these stats. The multinational mining giant, Rio Tinto, even released their own report at the beginning of this year outlining a culture of severe sexual violence and racism, with nearly half of respondents from the company saying they have experienced bullying and racism. It is culture audits like these that shine a much needed light on how sectors across Australia are failing their staff on a much larger scale than first imagined.

But there is good news. The results of these investigations although saddening and overwhelming are calling for proactive audits across more Australian sectors and workplaces. A first-of-its-kind national survey launched by Monash University, in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Harmony Alliance, is giving a voice to the migrant and refugee women of Australia. This follows the recommendations written in the 2020 Respect@Work Report to conduct more national surveys to capture the voice of CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) people. The report found that the most likely cohorts to experience sexual harassment were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, young workers aged less that 30 years, CALD people, and new migrants; however, although migrant women were found to be most vulnerable it was revealed there is little existing data for CALD people as they are more likely enable to access it. As lead researcher of this enquiry, Associate Professor, Marie Segrave says, “Nearly half of our population in Australia is overseas born citizens, permanent residents, and temporary visa holder. It is critical we understand what they are facing and how we can better support them”.

Talking with Katriina Tahka, HR expert and CEO of A Human Agency she confirms the importance of conducting culture audits and investigations into workplace across Australian industries  “My approach to culture audits has always been to start by having real conversations with real people. Every time I am blown away by the open and honest conversations employees are willing to have with me along with the number of times they say “no one has ever asked me for my opinion before”.  If you are willing to hold a mirror up, the truth about your workplace culture is waiting to be told. But avoid measuring culture with a ‘tick a box’ survey approach or your result with reflect the same”.

Although culture audit findings can uncover confronting and sometimes shocking truths about a workplace, they are essential for the safety of employees and the operation of a company. Our top 3 tips for conducting a culture audit successfully are:

  1. Make sure you speak to a representative sample of people at work (all levels, job families, geographies, diversity of people)
  2. Speak to at least 2% of the total population, preferably 5 – 10%
  3. Ensure that the listening sessions are conducted in a genuinely safe spaces for confidential conversation so that you uncover the real state of affairs.

The reports that are made from these findings are able to proactively help you resolve underlying issues before they boil over by giving a voice to all the humans working in your company. Done well, a culture audit in your workplace can be the first step towards significant and required change.

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