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Bullies and buns in the oven

08 November 2013

bullying LR blog

I was in my local supermarket’s car park the other day about to leave when a man in a menacing 4-wheel drive turned in to park. I was pretty sure he could see I couldn’t move back and that if he had waited until I turned out and left he would have been clear to enter. But he and his black 4WD weren’t budging. Eventually, I was able to manoeuver my car enough to swing out and around him. Years ago I would have involved myself in a Mexican standoff, now, while I found the guy’s behaviour disturbing, I also realised it was his behaviour and appreciated my own life just that little bit more. What makes someone want to bully you in a car park on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and if he had to display that sort of power, that type of bullying, just coming into a car park then what kind of a person would he be at work. It all got me thinking, especially about our recent survey of professional women, which revealed amongst other statistics that 31% of our respondents acknowledge bullying as a key obstacle they encounter at work.

Is it about the pressures on people today? Are we in an environment as parents, as business people, and as community leaders where the pressures are so great our health, mental and physical, is suffering.

Thinking about two recent stories I’ve heard about women I know who have suffered significant health scares, I’d say, work pressure doesn‘t distinguish between the sexes.

I know myself I’ll often put things off because I’m too busy, telling myself I’ll do it in my next break…  when I have a chance, when I have my holidays in however many months’ time. The problem is your health is all you really have.

At the recent Westpac AFR 100 Women of Influence awards, Catherine Harris, our top woman of influence in the Business/Entrepreneur category, was not able to be with us on the evening and had sent her sister in her place. The reason, we were told, was Catherine was away on a long deserved break having got the all clear following a major health scare. Catherine had been too busy and had continually put off going to the Doctor until finally, there was a crisis. Sound familiar? Yes, but ignoring your health is a situation we normally associate with men not women.

And then, even more recently and a lot closer to home, my own daughter, thinking she was just suffering stress and too busy to go and get a check, faced her own significant health scare. (Thanks for asking, she’s okay.)

If you can and you see someone buckling under the pressure, take the time to have a chat and see if you can help and if someone does the same for you, listen and look after your health.

Another startling piece of information to come out of our national survey of professional women (The Westpac Women of Influence Report) is just how many of the younger cohort, women aged 25-39, consider taking maternity leave one of the top three challenges they will face in the workforce. Interestingly, the concern declines among women after 40 years of age (19%).

Younger professional women seem to be daunted by the idea of taking time out of their career to have a family. Older women, who are more likely to have been through that part of their life, don’t consider it a concern or challenge. Having been through it, perhaps, they can see this time in their lives had less effect on their success after all.

I wonder if one of the last bastions of male chauvinism is hospitality. I’m talking here about the smaller enterprises which are mostly run and owned by men, restaurants. There are so many young women working in them and yet, when they think or decide to have children they keep it quiet. I know because I do eat out and many of the women working in the restaurants talk to me about how hard the industry is on women having children and what can they do. I’m aware of women who’ve found themselves replaced before they’ve even left for maternity leave, and I have it on good authority that it’s not unusual for male bosses to ask female staff they may have pinpointed for further development this question: so when are you going off to have babies? It’s outrageous and it’s very difficult to understand such an antiquated counter-productive attitude when you come from a business like Westpac where diversity and flexibility issues and parental leave are so important for creating a prosperous, productive and sustainable work place.

Half the battle has to be hearing the stories and, if our report is anything to go by, having role models and mentors step up to the plate and speak out – the motivation to act and change can then follow.

For more Report findings…  /articles/2013/october/career-influencers-research-shows-they-help-women-take-their-career-to-new-heights.aspx


And for our findings around how Australian women face the challenging SME market… /articles/2013/october/self-started-%E2%80%93-australian-women-tackle-challenging-sme-market.aspx


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  • Elizabeth Oldfield

    Elizabeth Oldfield 7 years ago

    As a people manager, I am always mindful of my own past managers, some great and some just aweful. Whether it is a man or a woman who is speaking to you, it comes down to the delivery of what is spoken. Keep to the facts and be repectful of your colleague. A company decision is accepted, where as "Do as I say" can seem like bullying. As Larke Riemer stated, it is the abuse of power which makes an act bullying. A people manager who uses "tough love" is out of date and should themselves be retrained. We are in 2013 now.

  • Lisa Rubinstein

    Lisa Rubinstein 7 years ago

    The pressure on working professionals today - men and women - is enormous. We are all having to do more with less time and resources. One impact is we can become more stressed and therefore less mindful of the effect of our words and behaviours on others, leading to bully-type of activities. As well, we are becoming a society that insists on visible activity to prove one's value to the business. All too often, people fail to recognise the inmportance of quiet contemplation to business success. We are becoming human doings versus human beings. Catherine Harris' story is unfortunately all too common and we can all learn an invaluable lesson here to ensure time is taken to step back and critical evaluate current activities and work/lie balance. It may mean a short-term adjustment in practices but the long term benefits will be invaluable to both you and the business.