It’s fundamental in our profession and across our wider community that we show respect and courtesy to one another as a basic tenet in how we relate and communicate. Differences abound everywhere: cultural, physical appearance, language, religion, heritage, education, age, gender, sexual orientation and many more. It’s these differences that enrich our community and make it the fascinating collective that it is. It’s known that power imbalances can tempt the powerful to disrespect the less powerful and feel empowered to behave inappropriately. The recent incident of the Spanish soccer chief at the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup Final was a very public demonstration of this issue, with the subsequent public interest and discussion of this incident demonstrating that our wider community still has some way to progress in understanding what constitutes appropriate behaviour with our fellow human beings.
Earlier this week, following the Financial Times’ recent reports of sexual misconduct at an internationally renowned architectural practice in London, The Architects’ Journal has reported that the practice’s staff spoke out about more extensive inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and unreasonable working conditions – showcasing a broader lack of understanding about how to work and relate to one another. Some five years ago, an internationally renowned New York architect was accused of sexual misconduct and subsequently left the practice of his own name. The repercussions to the lives of the women harassed is less clear, although in one case it was reported that after reporting the incident to management, the woman was laid off reportedly due to practice downsizing.
Inappropriate behaviour – and in particular sexual misconduct – is not the preserve of internationally renowned practices. I was shocked to hear of sexual harassment occurring locally at a recent Institute event, and even more so to hear this type of behaviour occurs not infrequently in Melbourne practices. Sexual harassment is never acceptable. Gaslighting, where an abuser attempts to distort events through psychological manipulation to sow self-doubt and confusion in the mind of the abused, is also not an uncommon response by abusers after victims bring the harassment to light. This too is totally unacceptable. Often it’s too painful or embarrassing for victims to make a complaint and point out the abuser. If incidents are witnessed, it’s also our collective responsibility to call out this type of behaviour and drive it out of societal norms. It’s also all our collective responsibility to create safe spaces, both within the workplaces we occupy and the events in which we celebrate our profession.
The Institute’s ‘Member Behaviour Policy & handbook’, adopted by the Institute’s Board on 26 July 2019, addresses both expected behaviour standards for members and staff of the Institute. The document includes the following clause:
By accepting or renewing Membership with the Institute, members are confirming that they understand and will comply with the standards of behaviour outlined in these policies. It is a condition of membership that the Institute’s policies regarding appropriate and respectful behaviour are adhered to in dealing with employees, workers and other members, and for ensuring healthy and safe institute workplaces.
I recommend that all members read this document to appreciate the breadth of behaviour it addresses and to clarify what is considered inappropriate behaviour. Where an incident does occur, the Institute offers a ‘Member Behaviour Log’, where details of an incident involving bullying, harassment, discrimination, vilification or victimisation can be reported. Clearly assault should be reported to the police for criminal investigation. Parlour also has public resources addressing harassment https://parlour.org.au/sexual-harassment/.
In the context of the workplace, the Victorian Government’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 sets out employer obligations to take all reasonable steps to identify and understand hazards and risks to health and safety, and there are significant penalties for employers where incidents do occur. Refer to https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/occupational-health-and-safety-your-legal-duties.
In addition, the Australian Government has introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 which imposes a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discriminatory conduct, including workplace sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation. This shifts the burden of responsibility from individuals making complaints to employers being required to be proactive and take preventative action. Perpetrators are liable to civil penalties, as well as the obligation to pay compensation.
It is appreciated that reporting these incidents can be harrowing for victims, and sadly often incidents go unreported. At our future Victorian Institute events, we will underline that the creation of safe spaces is mandatory and that harassment or poor behaviour will not be tolerated.
Any questions on this topic can be referred to our State Manager or myself.
David Wagner FRAIA
President of the Victorian Chapter