MediaWorks review offers sliver of hope amid sordid revelations – Lizzie Marvelly

OPINION:

It feels strange to be praising a damning report. The review conducted by Maria Dew QC into culture and conduct at MediaWorks reads like a deep dive under the rug into the grime beneath. And yet, among the sordid revelations there is a sliver of hope. In the stark, disinfecting, light of day there is an opportunity to create real and lasting change.

It’s not often that a report like this is made public. With allegations of sexual harassment and harm, sexist and racist comments, bullying, gender pay inequity, and a lack of consequences for misconduct, the report will demand some serious soul-searching from the MediaWorks leadership.

Reading it, I racked my brains for anything that had been missed. It seemed to be a roll call of almost all the disgusting and disappointing behaviour that can develop in an organisation. As the report says, “there is simply too much evidence” for these allegations to be minimised, denied or ignored.

Some of that evidence includes the finding that 22 per cent (106 employees) of respondents to a survey of staff had witnessed sexual harassment at MediaWorks. Additionally, 18 per cent (44 employees) of female survey participants had personally experienced some form of sexual harassment at MediaWorks. When almost one in five of your female employees has experienced sexual harassment in your workplace, something is deeply wrong.

Perhaps most concerning was that six people had come forward with serious allegations of sexual harassment or harm that had been caused to them at MediaWorks or at MediaWorks events.

One of these included a 19-year-old woman who became heavily intoxicated at a MediaWorks promotional event and ended up involved in an incident of sexual conduct with a MediaWorks employee more than 20 years her senior. MediaWorks had provided alcohol to attendees at the event over a period of many hours, and the woman was unable to fully remember what had occurred the next morning, becoming distressed and seeking medical and police assistance.

A number of staff witnessed this take place, and reported feeling uncomfortable about what had happened, but no one stepped in to intervene. Staff attending the event had been provided with health and safety materials that likened obtaining sexual consent to asking someone if they’d like a cup of tea, seemingly acknowledging the possibility of sexual activity occurring. There was no directive from the company that staff shouldn’t engage in sexual activity with guests at work events. There was also no host responsibility policy.

Having attended numerous media and entertainment industry parties over the years, I can’t say I’m surprised. Allegations of improper use of alcohol and illegal drugs are also entirely predictable. In industries seen to be “glamorous” to work in, characterised by a “work hard, play hard” ethos, there is often a disregard for rules and regulations as management wilfully overlooks the misconduct of the celebrities and senior staff that make businesses so much money.

What is becoming increasingly clear is this kind of attitude is no longer acceptable. Which should really be obvious, but some seem to need to have it spelled out – including a small group of managers (mostly male, but some female also) at MediaWorks who saw nothing wrong with the culture of the organisation.

These managers will be the first group that senior executives need to persuade to change in order to make good on the recommendations of the report. MediaWorks now needs to make it clear that it expects a certain standard of behaviour, and employees can shape up or ship out. There should be no place for sexual harassment, bullying, racism or sexism at MediaWorks, and those who can’t understand the importance of a safe workplace don’t deserve the highly sought-after positions they currently hold.

Though I’m disgusted by the findings of Dew’s report, I am heartened by the decision of the chief executive and the Board to release it publicly. It was the first step towards a long overdue reckoning that it appears the senior leadership intends to face head on. They should be commended for their transparency, but also warned that all eyes will be on them as they make their next moves. Anything less than a complete transformation of the culture at MediaWorks will make a mockery of the hundreds of employees who came forward in good faith to bring about change in an organisation they love.

Lizzie Marvelly is a writer and musician.

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