Why every organisation needs ‘ethical bystanders’

Why every organisation needs ‘ethical bystanders’

To make the modern workplace safer, we need to encourage employees to take on the role of the ‘ethical bystander’, Professor Catharine Lumby told those attending a webinar in early March arranged by compliance training company, GRC Solutions.

“I mean we get all this training about fraud. What do you do if someone’s stealing, or someone’s ripping off the corporate credit card? We get trained up the yazoo about that.” Professor Lumby states.

“But what do we do if we see disrespectful or even discriminatory behaviour?”

The webinar, titled Fostering diversity, inclusion and respect at work in the age of Zoom, featured Professor Lumby being interviewed by GRC Solutions Head of Content, Adrian Phoon, who is also Co-Chair of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

So, “how do we call out”, unethical or discriminatory behaviour? And, do employees feel equipped to deal with these situations should they arise?

Workplace-cultural training techniques, like ‘hypotheticals’; are a key technique of Professor Lumby’s consultancy.

She says, ‘Hypotheticals’ are used to test people’s reactions to different situations, deconstruct prejudices and discuss how the employees could be better equipped to deal with these scenarios.

Professor Lumby puts forward the hypothetical of a woman who is clearly uncomfortable at a work party with a corporate client leaning close to her. As an ethical bystander, how do you respond? 

“That’s why hypotheticals are good, you can get 5-10 people in a group with a hypothetical, and then what people can start to see is that everyone has a slightly different take on what’s appropriate, and people can talk about the language you put around it.”

Professor Lumby adds that it is important, because employees also have a chance to say “this is what it feels like for me when someone says that.”

This is why education is important in the workplace, Professor Lumby explains. 

So, “is it the role of the minority to educate people about their perspective; is it the role of the majority to learn about different people and perspectives? Or is this a completely false binary?” – Adrian Phoon.

Lumby responds, “Firstly… I think one of the problems of always expecting people from a so-called ‘minority’ to educate everyone else is a problem.

… so if I go to women, and the whole issue of sexual assault, I mean the whole journey has to be about good men standing up with women, or good non-binary people standing up with women.”

If we’re talking about workplaces, it’s the role of good leaders to be proactive in instituting programs, research, education… to be proactive about bringing everyone on that journey. And, not leaving it up to the so-called ‘minorities’ to educate people…”

Professor Lumby asserts that training people in the workplace to have adequate communication skills and giving them “a reason to buy into” the ongoing learning; are steps that if taken can truly create a more equal and safe workplace.

“That’s how you make it a part of the DNA of a culture.”

To watch the full webinar, please click here.