How women who stand up to bullying are slapped down | Women's Agenda

How women who stand up to bullying are slapped down

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”
– former Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO

I was absolutely horrified to read a recent front-page article of the Herald Sun (“Adviser who toppled Labor minister Adem Somyurek accused of undermining boss”, 20/6/15) which was subtitled How an ambitious adviser brought down a minister and plunged the Premier into crisis

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It is unacceptable in our society for those who raise bullying complaints to be intimidated and denigrated with such character assassinations. Especially given this is a high profile case and, as such, many women will be watching to see how it plays out.

How Dimity Paul is treated by the process, her employer and the media will likely affect how, and even if, future women experiencing workplace bullying make a complaint. For this reason, we owe it to all women to highlight and reject this type of (all too common) victim blaming and intimidating behaviour. As Clementine Ford recently said of highlighting her cyberbullies, “When you raise voices, you raise courage”.

Hence, I was pleased to have other individuals and organisations join me in being signatory to a statement to indicate there is absolutely no place for such victim-intimidation. The statement and this article does not aim to comment on nor prejudice the investigation process currently being undertaken by the Victorian Government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), with regard to the bullying allegation made against Victorian Minister, Adem Somyurek, by his Chief of Staff, Dimity Paul. Publicising of the statement in the Sunday Age over the weekend was welcomed as an opportunity to take a public stand against such disgraceful coverage.

In case you missed it, the original piece cobbled together a group of anonymous and unsubstantiated claims, sprinkled with personal photos of Ms Paul dressed up, making silly faces and having a good time. She was presented as a superficial and immature young woman solely interested in her looks, hence lacking the brains or authority to be a chief of staff. The article went on to make spurious claims about her inexperience and insinuate she did not gain her prior roles on merit: “Ms Paul got the role (at Maurice Blackburn) with some help from federal MP David Feeney, for whom Ms Paul had worked.”

A further comment is made about one associate not knowing about the claims prior to them going public and hence insinuating that she must be lying: “One source …was unaware that Ms Paul was having problems with Mr Somyurek”. An insinuation repeated when another claimed that they hadn’t heard reference to the alleged perpetrator being abusive: “No one I know had ever heard Adem had been abusive.”

Reference is also made to Ms Paul somehow having too high expectations for a safe workplace environment: “A senior Labor source said political offices are notoriously difficult places to work, and a great deal of responsibility is put on a chief-of-staff.” Clearly implying that if she couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen, she should have left.

This article portrays Ms Paul as a ruthless careerist, seeking to somehow present her motivation for lodging the bullying allegation as a way to take down her boss, raise her profile and accelerate her career. “Labor sources said Ms Paul was ambitious and an excellent networker…She used to say, ‘I want to be a politician before I’m 30’.” Smacking of evidence that the greatest sin a woman can have is ambition – as if this is ever a negative for a male!

Women everywhere need to be confident that, should they muster the courage to ever raise concerns about the workplace behaviour of their supervisor — whether they’re their manager or their minister — those concerns will be dealt with on their merits and their character not impugned through media.

Women, just like men, have the right to be ambitious. Women, just like men, are allowed to pursue careers in politics. Women, just like men, are allowed to expect a high standard of the people they work with and women, just like men, are allowed to expect safety in the workplace.

Women shouldn’t be subject to the double standards we have seen in this case so far.

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