These news reports are linked to underlying assumptions of the Australian culture, which are reflected in and reinforced by the criticised behaviours that smack of intolerance and discrimination. Everyday television portrays females as the weaker sex; it celebrates drinking; reports almost exclusively male sports and delights in drawing attention to scrapping politicians. At school our children are exposed to a curriculum and teaching practices that reinforce gender stereotypes and deny the importance of language learning. Why do we let this happen?
Does Australian culture have a 21st century moral and ethical code for diversity?
Of all the elements of a culture – whether it be a country's culture or an organisation's culture – it is the 'assumptions' resting beneath the values, attitudes and behaviours that are we rarely recognise. Yet it is important that we discover them because they are what drive the behaviours we see.
When we examine behaviours in cultures, we look at the layers that are built up over time – like layers of ice that pile up over many centuries to form glaciers ... which in turn break off to form icebergs. These layers help us to understand the influences on the behaviours we see in everyday life. Assumptions are the deepest, hidden, elements of a culture that we are not often conscious of and they influence the values we hold. These values give meaning to the attitudes and behaviour we see in our politicians, sportsmen, television producers and the citizens in our society.
The behaviours we have witnessed over the past few weeks questions whether Australia has adopted the moral and ethical code of the 21st century in its culture to reflect the changing times.
Leading nations of the world pride themselves on valuing the diversity of both genders and all cultures and ensuring that all people enjoy equal rights. If we check the behaviours that have been called into question by national television and press recently, against the morals and ethics of the 21st century, it would seem that we are disrespecting females, non-Anglo-Saxons and high political office.
(There is more about the Culture Iceberg and its impact on the cultures of Australia and on your own businesses in Chapters 8-11 of Stepping Up. The Culture Iceberg can be used to help you adjust your culture.)
How assumptions drive behaviours
Let's review the behaviours that have been criticised recently and see if we can identify the underlying assumptions that contribute to this behaviour:
Behaviour: A 13-year-old girl calls an indigenous AFL player an 'ape' at a local game
Assumption (learned from observation): that it's okay to use derogatory words to label people with coloured skin and it is part of the football culture of Australia
Behaviour: Restaurant owner writes 'joke menu'
degrading the nation's Prime Minister in a dish called 'Julia Gillard
Kentucky Fried Quail' and describing the dish as having small breasts
and large thighs...
Assumption (learned from observation): that sexist jokes about females and explicit reference to their anatomy are considered humorous and acceptable as entertainment in Australian society and that there is little serious recourse if any
Behaviour: Men in the army email degrading images of
women in the army to male colleagues; those who witness it hide it to
protect the perpetrators
Assumptions (learned from observation): the army is a male domain where men bond; sticking together at all costs is a large part of the army's belief system; bullying is par-for-the-course and being able to tolerate bullying is a measure of your manhood; the army is no place for women; females are exploited and abused
Behaviour: Male radio announcer crosses the line in
questioning a female about her private affairs, a female who also
happens to hold the highest office in the country – that of Prime
Assumptions (learned from observation): that being provocative and ballsy on radio attracts listeners; that making assertions about people's sexual preferences is tolerated – especially when referring to a minority group; that we further tolerate the suggestion that there is something wrong with you if you are not mainstream; that questioning women – and one women of high office – on highly personal matters (with no bearing on economic or political issues) on mainstream media is acceptable and excusable
Behaviour: Anglo-Saxon males on ASX100 boards select
other Anglo-Saxons to fill vacancies, as revealed by Boss magazine's
latest research showing that only 3% of these boards comprise Asian-born
Assumption (learned from observation): that boards of Australian companies are reserved for Anglo-Saxon people; that there is no need to account for why your board does not reflect your customers and communities; that this homogenous group can provide the range of skills and experience required to perform at its best.
How behaviours affect performance of Australia and your business
It seems that the assumptions lying at the bottom of the Australian culture and influencing behaviours are, in these cases, failing to meet the 21st century moral and ethical code regarding diversity. Around the world leaders of progressive nations strive to achieve high levels of diversity as they see the economic and social benefits of having everyone participate equally in society – that is both genders and all cultures. Equal rights is not a new notion and while Australia holds itself up as a leader in equal rights and multiculturalism, it still has some underlying assumption standing in the way.
These behaviours are powerful signs for children as they grow and for new immigrants adopting the local culture as they settle into life in Australia. These behaviours reflect the values that are moulded from the assumptions and what they say to observers is 'We do not value women or non-Anglo-Saxon people as much as we value Anglo-Saxon males.' This is how a culture is perpetuated. People new to a cultural group observe how things are done and they adopt the local way of behaving to fit in.
The impact of this on our nation is huge. Tourists who visit from other nations may not appreciate this behaviour and they will spread the word in their home nations when they go back. Foreign students and investors can also tell others outside Australia what they have observed and thus the reputation of Australia builds around the world.
People affected by these assumptions walk into your organisation every day. They have learned the behaviour by observation of others in society: in their local communities, on television, in schools, at the sports field and in previous jobs they have held. The Culture Circuit helps us to understand the links between the cultures that we live in and how our behaviour in one culture can affect the other cultures that we are part of.
Chapters 8–11 of Stepping Up show you how you can shift these assumptions and encourage the people in society, and in your businesses, to adopt new behaviours that better reflect the communities in which they live and the world around us.
Can we afford to let these behaviours continue in Australian communities and businesses? What will be the short- and long-term effects of inaction? What will it take to get change? Who should lead the change?
Chapter 12 of Stepping Up discusses who should lead the changes we need in our society to get greater diversity. It also offers the best way to introduce culture change more quickly in organisations. And given that the economy has slowed and jobs are still being cut, a faster way of obtaining fuller participation of both genders and all cultures in the workforce must be appealing.
If you haven't got your copy of Stepping Up yet – perhaps it is time start reading about how you can help make these changes. Go here to get your copy