From Grace Tame’s heart-wrenching story of sexual abuse to valuable advice on managing talent in the new world of work, day one of AHRI’s Convention was packed with plenty of fantastic insights.
This article mentions sexual abuse and may be distressing to some readers. If you, or someone you know, needs support, you can call 1800 RESPECT, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Delegates who attended day one of AHRI’s TRANSFORM 2021 Convention, which focused on the public sector, would have finished the day with a mix of emotions after hearing from inspirational speakers Grace Tame and Jordan Nguyen, who closed the day’s proceedings.
Tame, whose session we will unpack below, left the audience with a critical call to action to end the systemic sexual abuse of children and to help survivors deal with the long-lasting trauma they still experience today. Nguyen tugged on our heart strings in a completely different way by showing the audience the life-changing inventions he has created to help those living with disability (you can read more about that, here).
These were just two of the amazing speakers we heard from. Below, HRM shares some of the helpful takeaways from the day.
Want to skip to a section that interests you? Here’s what we’re covering:
- Grace Tame’s story of bravery and resilience, as well as her personal framework to help survivors to move forward.
- Jacqui Curtis FAHRI, COO at the ATO, on HR’s role as storytellers in their organisations.
- Ita Buttrose’s thoughts on challenging the status quo of work and doing things differently in the face of COVID-19.
- Insights from a variety of speakers and panelists about new ways to think about talent development, such as creating mobility between the public and private sector.
Change agent from trauma
Until two years ago, Grace Tame’s voice was silenced. Tasmanian law prevented her from publicly sharing her experience of childhood sexual abuse under her own name.
She recalls how journalists referred to her as Jane Doe, and photographers needed to take photos of the back of her head, or blur her out completely.
The shroud of silence was lifted when, in April 2019, Tame was granted a special exemption to share her story. Last year, the law was reformed to allow other survivors to attach their name to their story too.
Tame shared her gruelling experience of being psychologically groomed by her former high school teacher when she was just 15 years old, and the ongoing, horrific sexual assaults he subjected her to. Despite her bravery and willingness to recount her story time and time again, it’s an experience that stays with her to this day.
“Un-sanitised history is truly our greatest educational resource. We have to own it, and air it. Only then can we move on.” – Grace Tame
“I’ve made it no secret that I still battle with residual demons. But I am one who survived, one who is surrounded by love and support. I am also one who now has a voice and is listened to.”
This is a privilege, she says, and she’s grateful to be able to use her platform to advocate for others – a platform that has only been bolstered after being named 2021’s Australian of the Year.
Now she is calling on the community to unite together to stamp out sexual harassment and assault.
She shared the core pillars that have given her the motivation to continue pushing forward, and says she hopes they help others. They include:
- Have hope. “This can sound trite or wishy-washy…. but it’s the idea that the best is yet to come. If we shift our thinking to a positive way, not knowing what the future looks like is perhaps the most exciting part.”
- Take action. We’re often hesitant to take action because we’re unsure what impact we can have as an individual. We need to move beyond that feeling because, as Tame says, “every voice counts”.
- Find acceptance: “[This is about] owning the past truths, rather than wishing them away. And, by doing so, enabling it to be converted into something that can be used for good.
“Un-sanitised history is truly our greatest educational resource. We have to own it, and air it. Only then can we move on.”
- Take one step at a time – This is how you stay grounded in the present moment, she says.
- Reach out to others – “Recognise that dealing with trauma, in fact dealing with life, is not something we can do, or should do, alone.”
Although Tame was successful in her push to reform Tasmania’s gag law, she pointed out a number of areas that require reform in order to drive the rate of sexual assault down. They included:
- State and federal levels of government need to commit to a “uniform, national standard set of legal definitions of consent, sexual intercourse and grooming,” and establish clear definitions for the age of a child and the age for sexual consent.
- “We need to teach these things in a national, uniformed approach with education resources for parents, children, schools, law enforcement and community and social services,” she said.
- “Collaboration, conversation, education, legislation. These are the foundations of change, and we all have our part to play; whether that’s talking, listening, reflecting, researching or writing to your local member.”
(Want to learn more about what you can do in your workplace? Read this article from HRM including advice from sexual harassment experts).
Tame shared one startling statistic which highlights the necessity of HR professionals to be equipped with the skills to respond effectively to an employee who may have experienced sexual assault.
“It takes survivors an average of 23.9 years before they are ready to disclose their experience. There is, of course, no way of knowing how many never actually reach that point,” said Tame.
If someone chooses to confide in you, make sure you recognise how significant this is. If you’re unsure how to respond, Tame says to remember that there’s no guidebook.
“It’s about committing to being there along the journey and having that intention of support, even if you don’t know what that support looks like. You can say, ‘I will help you to the best of my ability,’” said Tame.
“I encourage each and every one of you to play your part in helping me to address these issues head on.”
HR need to be storytellers
Day one also included a fascinating discussion between the host of the podcast This Working Life, Lisa Leong, and the Australian Tax Office’s Chief Operating Officer, Jacqui Curtis FAHRI.
Curtis spoke about her role as the Head of HR Profession at the Australian Public Service (APS), as part of David Thodey’s review into the APS (you can read more about this in the October edition of HRM magazine).
One of the key messages that stood out in Curtis’s discussion was the importance of HR developing storytelling skills as a means to shift people’s perceptions.
“You’ve got to convince the people in the business who would prefer to invest their dollars in their own priorities that by investing in [people] data and analytics, for example, that they will get something out of it. You need a narrative.”
To illustrate this, Curtis uses the example of unplanned leave, which was previously a big issue within the APS, she says.
“What we were able to do, with data analytics, was show not only who the people were that were taking the leave, but more importantly the patterns around that. We could demonstrate that if your manager was a high unplanned leave taker, you could see the flow-on effect to the people all around them [doing the same thing].
“We could put that in front of the business leaders and say, ‘You see from this data not only can we identify who is [taking unplanned leave], but we can understand why it’s happening and the patterns beneath it. And if we can address this… it equates to, say, a million dollars back into your business line’. That’s the language you have to use to make the case. You have to have a story to show that it’s actually a reality, not just some pie in the sky theory.”
Curtis also emphasised the importance of HR professionals working collaboratively with other functions. This was demonstrated in an anecdote about fixing the massive surge in Comcare premiums across the APS.
“The [premiums] were rising and rising to the point where ours was $50 million per year,” she says.
“One of the things we found was that as soon as a staff member rang to make a claim… the very first thing our people would say was, ‘We’re going to get a claims pack out to you and this is how you fill it in, and this is what you need to say to get your claim to stand up.’ There was never any attempt by HR to explore with the staff member what had happened, or what might be an alternative to making a claim – for example, could we send them off to see the physio?”
Curtis and her team engaged experts and other government agencies to map out the claims process from an employee’s perspective and assess all the points in which they could insert a preventative measure. The results of this collaborative effort speak for themselves.
“In the space of seven years, we were able to take that $50 million down to around $1.3 million…. that’s $49 million back into the business to employ more people or invest in other things.”
Farewell to the status quo
We also heard from iconic Aussie media maven, Ita Buttrose AC OBE, chair of the ABC, who shared her views on leadership and work post-COVID.
COVID-19 is the biggest change agent that any of us have ever faced and, in her words, “change is something we usually resist”.
But in recent months we’ve learned to welcome it with open arms, not because we wanted to but because we had to.
The silver lining, of course, is that we’re now able to approach things differently. Buttrose framed this as an opportunity to embrace a new type of leader, one who leads with empathy at their core.
“Leaders can be empathetic and strong,” said Buttrose. “In a world that is so uncertain, I believe leaders must establish an emotional connection with the people they lead.”
“Older people know what it’s like to be younger, but younger people have no idea what it’s like to be older.” Ita Buttrose AM OBR, ABC Chair
Buttrose was also keen to explore the new ways we’ll work, as she contemplated the introduction of a four-day work week, reflecting on a recent “interesting discussion” in the SMH.
“[Dr Kristin Ferguson] singled out Iceland, which tried the four-day working week between 2015 and 2019 and it was overwhelmingly successful,” said Buttrose, who emphasised the benefits of a shorter week including increased productivity, and lower rates of stress and burnout.
“[Ferguson] suggested it was time for such a discussion here in Australia,” said Buttrose. This is a sentiment many people would likely agree with.
Mobilising new talent
The public sector is at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Government agencies have dealt with this ongoing challenge by mobilising their workforces in an effort to create new approaches to talent development.
In sessions throughout the day, a range of experts shared some of their insights into how we can access and develop top-notch talent in the new world of work. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say:
- Create crossover between the private and public sector – Curtis encouraged public sector employers to look for talent in the private sector, and vice versa, as this cross-pollination often brings out fresh thinking and new skills.
Rebecca Cross, Coordinator General, Whole-of-Government (Non-Health) COVID-19 Response, could attest to this firsthand.
“As we’ve been ramping up activity in things like the vaccine program, it was quite hard to find epidemiologists and other health experts,” she says. “[So] a number of people from the private sector have joined us and have actually given up [their former] jobs to join our team [permanently].”
“I think there are real benefits in looking outside the public sector and seeing where we can draw on talent.”
- Mobilise talent strategically – While Patrick Hetherington, First Assistant Commissioner, Australian Public Service Commission is in favour of mobility within the workforce, he says it shouldn’t be “a game of musical chairs”.
“It’s not about saying, ‘Everyone, move agencies every six months’… You really need to think strategically about this stuff. You don’t want to undermine the specialist expertise in a particular domain by frivolous mobility of people. We need to think deeply about it.”
Hetherington says purposeful moves of people within your business will help to build the relevant skills and expertise you need in the future. “For example, if someone spends their life in the policy domain, there’s [a case] to put them in a more corporate area so they can build that expertise and become more well-rounded. You need to do that early on in people’s careers.”
- Utilise older workers – Buttrose suggested employers look to older workers as a solution to the skills gap. “Older people are more focused. They take fewer days off. They have excellent networks, and they have an outstanding work ethic,” she said. She recalled a time when someone told her she was in the ‘autumn period’ of her career, in an effort to offend her, perhaps.“I reminded him that autumn could be quite brilliant,” she said. “Older people know what it’s like to be younger, but younger people have no idea what it’s like to be older.”
That was, if you believe it, just a snippet of day one. We look forward to bringing you more insights from day two’s speakers shortly. Until then, feel free to share some of your favourite parts of the day in the comment section below!