opinion

"Two AFL Executives lost their jobs over affairs this week, and I'm cheering."

This week, everyone was talking about the two footy blokes who were forced to resign over workplace affairs.

Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss were both married executives, who were both stood down from their roles after it was revealed they were getting their kicks off with junior administrative staff.

The outcry was swift and fierce. Commentators derided the league for being too heavy handed. Too hardline.

“Why the hell should a CEO determine what people do in their free time?” They asked. What does a bit of hanky panky in your private life have to do with you performing at your job?

The women weren’t harassed. Or abused. They didn’t even complain. The men were reportedly excellent executives; highly regarded in their roles.

LISTEN: We entered into a heated argument on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud, over the scandal in the AFL. Post continues below. 

So why did they lose their jobs?

We don’t know the full story here. There could have been policies in place, or other incidents to warrant this approach. What we DO know, because the AFL reported it, is that it “caused distress and concern to a number of people”.

Other reports surfaced, days later, of a “toxic, sexist culture” within AFL headquarters, where men in the office would come up with a top ten list of female colleagues they wanted to shag.

And tell them: “you’re number five”.

So to anyone clutching their pearls and asking “what will become of the office romance?” – understand this. This is not a story about dalliances over the work desk. This is a story about turning around a certain culture that exists in many workplaces across Australia. And about a CEO having a duty of care that extends beyond his executive mates.

So I, for one, would like to say; thank you.

Because when I watched the press conference, I cheered.

The full press conference is here: 

“I expect that my Executives are role models and set a standard of behaviour for the rest of the organisation,” CEO Gillon McLachlan said.

He talked about wanting a diverse, inclusive, and equal culture – where employees are treated respectfully.

“The journey we are on to a more equal and respectful workplace must be more than just words – it must be backed up with action and change,” he said.

“I’m proud of the change we are making. We have made dramatic change, whether it’s the amount of women on the management team, a number of women in the organisation – talented women.”

This is a man who oversees more women than ever working in the industry. Who works with more women than ever in head office, where three of the nine management team that report to him are women. A man who has led SO much change for women in the AFL. He brought forward the women’s league, stood tall at every game, and who showed with his actions that he means what he says.

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Gillon McLachlan. Image via Getty.

And he's what we need, more than ever.

This is what we need from men in leadership positions. Men who say, 'we are building a culture of inclusiveness' and mean it. Where power and entitlement have no place. Where lists of how f*ckable women in the office are torn up and thrown out. Where married executives getting it off with more junior staff members is not good enough, because, while seemingly benign, it makes other uncomfortable, and contributes to the bro-code.

AFL has the highest spectator attendance and TV audiences of any professional sport in the country. It’s central to Australian culture. The league hangs its hat on being an institution that prides itself on being family friendly, inclusive and reflecting community values.

They are words that are often tossed to look good on a brochure or on LinkedIn. But this is a company walking its talk.
When it comes to leadership, there’s an ancient saying, "the fish rots from the head". It means all problems in a company can be traced back to the leadership.

Gill, pardon the obvious pun, is the fish here.  A gleaming great fish that's leading a school of change. He wants to change the culture of the AFL and yeah, he's made some really hard decisions, but as the CEO he has a duty of care to provide a positive working environment.

The executives have apologised. The women have scampered. Organisations are straightening their boot laces and adopting policies around workplace relationships. But the core message is clear; finally, someone is sticking their neck out.  Showing that decisions have consequences. And walking their talk.

And no matter the colour of your laces, you've got to respect that.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.

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