by Jonathan Pearlman, The Telegraph, March 5, 2018
Australian airline Qantas was accused of operating a “corporate thought police” after advising staff to avoid using terms such as husband, wife, mum and dad - and to describe the arrival of the British in the late 1700s as an invasion or occupation rather than a settlement.
In an information pack sent to staff as part of the airline’s Spirit of Inclusion month, employees were provided with a list of potentially offensive terms and were told to “minimise manterruptions”, in which men at the workplace “interrupt and speak over women”.
“Always using the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ can reinforce the idea that people are always in heterosexual relationships,” the pack says.
“In the same way, always referring to ‘mum and dad’ can make many families feel excluded — both same-sex couplesand single-parent families… Words like ‘love’, ‘honey’ or ‘darling’, even when used as terms of endearment, often offend. In the workplace, it is best to avoid these sorts of words.”
Seeking to combat “unconscious bias”, the pack said language was often used to reinforce stereotypes, noting that terms such as “abrasive” and “bubbly” are rarely used to describe men.
“Language can make groups of people invisible,” it said. “For example, the use of the term chairman can reinforce the idea that leaders are always men.”
The pack was leaked to Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph and was reported under the front-page headline “Mumbo Jumbo”.
Urging the company’s 30,000 employees to “recognise reality”, the pack provides suggestions for describing the arrival of the British in the continent from the late 1700s.
“Describing the arrival of the Europeans as a ‘settlement’ is a view of Australian history from the perspective of England rather than Australia,” the pack says.
“Instead of settlement, try ‘colonisation’, ‘occupation’ or ‘invasion’.”
In a note to staff, Lesley Grant, a senior executive at Qantas responsible for “People and Culture”, reportedly said the airline aimed to create an environment where “everyone feels comfortable to bring their whole selves to work”.
The pack was welcomed by diversity campaigners but drew heavy criticism from conservative commentators and politicians.
Tony Abbott, a former prime minister, said the pack was “political correctness that’s gone way over the top”.
“It’s just rubbish this idea that we need a corporate thought police,” he told 2GB Radio.
“Qantas staff are very good people… they’ve got to deal with just about every possible type of person, and they don’t need this kind of nonsense, they really don’t.”
He added: “I think people can be incredibly precious about these things. I call a lot of people ‘mate’. Sometimes I might even say that to a girl.”
Lisa Annese, from the Diversity Council of Australia, which helped to design the guidelines, said they were not intended to be prescriptive but were designed to promote discussion about workplace practices.
“What we’re saying is if you want a workplace where people feel valued, respected and included, it’s better to be using the word chairperson, rather than chairman, especially if the chair is a female,” Ms Annese told The Australian.
“I really give credit to Qantas who do a lot of work to make their employees feel included and valued and respected, especially now when we’re seeing stories of bad behaviour.”