A fresh investigation into Airservices Australia by a former sex discrimination commissioner has revealed an ‘unacceptable’ culture of bullying and sexual harassment along with multiple claims of racism, homophobia and gender discrimination.
Elizabeth Broderick’s report interviewed 2,171 employees and found that 37 per cent of women experienced sexual harassment and 50 per cent of all employees bullying, which, she concluded, must be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
The investigation, commissioned by the business itself, also published numerous claims by employees, including:
- “[My manager said to me once] Why are you staying back at work? Do you want to f**k me? You should wear a dress. We can see your underpants.”
- “The culture [in this Tower] is totally toxic. It’s like Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm.”
- “I am gay but I would never disclose it at work.”
- “There is a poor culture overall. [There is an] old boys’ club which is more akin to a pub.”
- “If you’re an ambitious female, there is no place for you.”
Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield said, “Airservices will implement the report’s recommendations in full to ensure that we offer a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace for all of our employees.
“The report contains deeply disappointing reports of bullying, harassment and workplace exclusion that are completely unacceptable to me and the senior leadership team at Airservices. This behaviour has no place in any workplace and must stop.”
Broderick’s extensive report included 26 focus groups, including five all-female; 197 interviews; 81 written submissions; and a survey of 2,171 employees, a response rate of 58.1 per cent.
It came after a report last year by former Federal Court Judge Anthony North QC found the culture at Airservices Australia was so poor it could “compromise the safety of passengers”. It followed a previous survey of 500 employees in January 2019, which had similar findings.
This new report identified that 20 per cent of respondents had “direct experience” of sexual harassment, rising to 37 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men.
It also concluded that “urgent action” is required to address the “very low levels of reporting” of the issue, adding, “It is clear there are work environments where people do not feel safe to speak up or to call out non-inclusive behaviour.”
Some of the comments stated:
- “While at the Academy/college, I witnessed an instructor there … make sexually suggestive and inappropriate comments about a female trainee, as well as multiple general racist comments.”
- “It’s far worse here for women [than men]. I’d hate to be a woman in this place. There is lots of sexual harassment.”
- [Two aisles] are renowned for the older men being sexually inappropriate and making sexually inappropriate comments about women to other men.
The report also found that bullying was a “significant and frequent theme” in the focus groups, interviews, written submissions and the survey.
Some 50 per cent indicated they had experienced bullying – 40 per cent in the last five years and 24 per cent in the last 12 months.
- “Bullying is the norm here [and so] there is a high rate of absenteeism and lots of health issues.”
- “My bullying occurred from my direct line manager from his personal phone to my personal phone, so it was not on a recorded line. And face to face with the threat of dismissal if I did not do as he said. This despite having followed all appropriate procedures in the books. It was his way or the highway.”
- “I have been here for over 20 years. And I’m worn down. I feel unsafe, vulnerable, scared and anxious. I no longer have the resilience to overcome the constant bullying, nastiness and harassment. No one in a leadership position is willing to stand up for what is right.”
- “I’ve had my head ripped off when I have tried to speak up or change the toxic culture.”
The report also included numerous allegations of racism, homophobia and that the organisation is an “old boy’s club”.
- “The ATCs here make sexualised, racist and homophobic comments. If you call them out, they set you up.”
- “Airservices is a boys’ club. Always has been. Always will be.”
- “I’ve been screamed at, passed over for roles to less experienced men and sidelined. Do I think it’s because of my gender: Absolutely.”
- “There is definitely homophobia and racism, certainly in the area I work in.”
Airservices Australia said in a statement, “Prior to its publication, we had already undertaken a number of key steps to address unacceptable behaviours in our workplace and drive sustainable cultural reform. This includes the establishment of a dedicated Culture Program, introduction of a Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policy, and the appointment of a chief people and culture officer.
“Most significantly, the review highlighted the need for courageous and inclusive leadership as a driving force for cultural reform. We have introduced a number of development programs to strengthen the capabilities of our leadership cohort.
“Further changes are underway. Our response to the report identifies the actions we are taking to build a workplace that is free of bullying, sexual harassment, harassment, discrimination and other negative behaviours.”