By Samantha Edwards, Senior Consultant
On 1 February 2021, the Collingwood Football Club’s “Do Better” report was released, following an independent review into the Club’s responses to incidents of racism and cultural safety in the workplace and its internal processes and culture[i]. The review, commissioned by the Board’s Integrity Committee, was sparked by allegations made by former Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba, and occurred against a backdrop of the Club’s long history of involvement in racist controversies. As noted in the report, the review also occurred in the context of an increasingly vehement mainstream intolerance for racism which was highlighted in 2020 by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The report contains a series of confronting observations of the Club’s history and culture, informed by interviews with staff, players, ex-players and supporters. These conclusions include that:
- there is evidence of systemic or structural racism at the Club (defined in the report as occurring ‘not through individual action but through policy, institutional culture, representations in media, laws, conversational norms and normalised behaviour’);
- the Club’s responses to incidents of racism impacting players and fans have been a consistent failure. In responding to complaints, primacy has been given to damage control and brand protection (‘denying and dismissing’), and reacting to media reports rather than responding to internal complaints;
- whilst there have been various recent initiatives at the Club to improve diversity and anti-racism at the Club, there is an absence of a strong set of values and effective policies and procedures. Those policies and procedures which are in place (including those regarding the making of complaints) were not clear or widely understood.
The report’s recommendations aim to enhance “transparency, accountability and consequence” for racist incidents at the Club, urging the Club to strive for best practice in diversity and anti-racism. Key recommendations include:
- a Board-led review of the Club’s values, which explicitly embraces diversity and anti-racism and links these with concepts of excellence and the goal of winning;
- development of a framework for proactively responding to incidents of racism, underpinned by the Club’s values;
- review of the Club’s processes for addressing complaints, including a systemic process for listening and acknowledging as a first step and supporting those impacted. It should also include an avenue for external, independent review and whistleblower protection;
- developing a process of “truth-telling” through which those affiliated with the Club can develop greater cultural awareness through understanding the experiences of First Nations people and People of Colour;
- developing a proactive strategy to atone for past acts of racism, informed by restorative justice principles;
- the need for a clear implementation plan with assigned responsibilities and timelines, and which harnessed the expertise of individuals with relevant first-hand cultural knowledge.
In the brief period following the report’s release, the Club’s Board has announced its adoption of all recommendations, acknowledging “without qualification” the challenge to use its past to inform its future. Given the high profile nature of the Club’s predicament, it seems likely that there will be ongoing public interest in the Club’s progress in this space and whether it is able to serve as an example for overcoming past failures to engender cultural safety in the workplace.
Key takeaways for employers
Whilst the experience of each workplace is unique, the report contains many salient observations which are instructive for employers seeking to overcome real or perceived institutionalised discrimination in their workplaces, and/or a poor track record for managing complaints of discrimination.
In particular, the report highlights:
- the need for organisations to courageously reflect on what has happened in the past in order to make changes going forward;
- the intractable nature of ‘structural racism’, which requires more than the efforts of individuals to overcome. It requires a Board-led project for setting the vision and values for structural change, and the willingness of Board members to themselves be held accountable to those standards;
- the importance of clear and trusted avenues for complaint making;
- the need for anti-discrimination to be expressly enshrined as a clear core value of the organisation and embraced as ‘core business’. These values, in turn, should underpin organisational policies and procedures, and their socialisation within the organisation should be supported by appropriate resources and a broader educational program;
- the benefits of commissioning an independent external review to ensure visibility over the extent and causes of workplace dysfunction, and an honest appraisal of past failings, to uncover resolutions.
[i] “Do Better – Independent review into Collingwood Football Club’s responses to Incidents of Racism and Cultural Safety in the Workplace”: https://resources.afl.com.au/afl/document/2021/02/01/0bd7a62e-7508-4a7e-9cb0-37c375507415/Do_Better.pdf
Worklogic welcomes Samantha Edwards
“We are thrilled to welcome Samantha as our newest Worklogician in Sydney. Samantha brings to Worklogic a wealth of experience in workplace relations and the management of employee behaviour and she will be a valued addition to our Sydney team.” – Jason Clark, Worklogic director.