Wrong Lesson Learned

Professional troubleshootermaker and former blogger TNA points me to this story:

Former Telstra CEO David Thodey has shared the story of how he was publicly shamed in front of an arena crowd by world-renowned diversity trainer Jane Elliott in what he calls “one of the most significant moments of my career.”

This ought to be good.  We need more senior executives finally waking up to the sham that is “diversity” in modern corporations and the destructive effect of identity politics.

While working for IBM around 2000, Thodey was invited to an event sponsored by Big Blue at which Jane Elliott would be talking.

Elliott is famous for her then controversial Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment which started in an Iowa classroom in the days after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Elliott, then a primary schoolteacher, segregated the class into the blue eyed and brown eyed. She then gave one group special privileges and chastised the other, before reversing the special treatment the following week.

Thus ramming home the point that people ought not to be divided into groups based on physical characteristics and then treated differently?  I’m fully on board.

She went on to become a leading workplace diversity trainer for the likes of IBM, General Electric, Exxon, and AT&T, notoriety that brought her to Sydney to speak to a 3,500 strong Sydney Entertainment Centre crowd.

Thodey was brought up to stand on one side of the stage and a Torres Strait Islander woman was brought up to stand on the opposite side. Elliott then asked Thodey how tall he was and how he felt about it.

“I said, ‘I don’t really think about it’. She turned to the Torres Strait Islander woman and asked. She said ‘I’m 5 foot one and well it’s really hard actually. I go into rooms and I can’t see people. I tend to be looking up and it’s really hard and I find it really quite difficult.’”

I’m 6’4″ tall, and were I Thodey I’d have had a simple response to that: economy-class travel.  And why does it matter that the woman was a Torres Strait Islander?  Why not just say it was a woman?

Elliott then asked Thodey how he felt about being a man. He said: “I was just born that way and I don’t think about it”. The woman said: “It’s very hard being a Torres Strait Islander woman. People don’t listen to me when I say things.”

This is hardly unique to women who hail from islands in the Torres Strait and people not listening to you is probably not the best example of a life of hardship: that would put every wife on the planet into the category of Mumbai Street-Urchin.

“This went on. I was totally unconscious of the awareness of my perspective and someone else’s. This is in front of thousands of people. And I got smaller and smaller. I was really embarrassed,” Thodey said.

Yeah, I’d be pretty embarrassed at this ludicrous display of virtue signalling, too.  I’m beginning to understand why the penny dropped.

But the humiliation wasn’t over. As Thodey left the stage he remembers touching Elliott on the back.

A kidney punch?

“She turned and said – ‘What gives you the right to touch me!?’ At which point I ran off the stage completely! That was probably one of the most significant moments of my career. It’s always caused me to reflect.”

I can well believe it!  This would cause any half-sensible executive to tear up their Corporate Diversity Policy, cancel all associated training courses, and fire the idiot who booked this Elliott woman to speak in the first place.

Oh wait.

Oh no.

That’s not what he did at all.

During his time as head of Telstra, Thodey enacted a ‘flexible working for all roles’ policy and set-up a diversity council.

Oh dear lord.

He also enforced a ‘50/50 if not why not?’ missive to all levels of the telco and was a founding member of the Male Champions of Change group.

The problem of gender equity had to be tackled on a personal level, he said.

What I thought was an article on a brainwashed fool waking up and smelling the roses has turned out to be one whereby a feeble-minded climber of the greasy pole is bullied into buying a barrow of fresh horseshit before spreading it around a large corporation.

“You can get all carried away with inclusion and gender equity as an ethical or equality or egalitarian perspective.

An issue that has yet to plague me.

But this goes deeper and often we don’t have very honest discussions about it and I think it’s really important we do. This needs to be personal because if it isn’t it won’t change.”

Lots of discussions bring about change?  Have all these people been educated in France?

Success would only come from being bold, Thodey added.

Would examples of such boldness include running off the stage when some harpy levels some ludicrous accusation against you?

“You need to be bold. The problem is it’s easy to get into the status quo and not change. The only way I know how to change is push the boundaries. You’ve got to be willing to be unaccepting of bad behaviour, you’ve got to call it out, and you’ve got to be really strong with it,” Thodey said.

Right, but what’s this got to do with a Torres Strait Islander woman being short?  Will she be offered free sessions on the rack they have down in the local museum of medieval torture?  Or is Longshanks Newman requested to come to the conference room for leg amputation?

“You need to measure you need to be incredibly detailed in terms of the data.

A CEO meticulously collecting data on his employees?  Sounds wonderful.

Then you’ve got to put in good programmes to support it. Then you’ve got to look for the unseen signals. Talk to people and ask them how things are going because people will actually put up with too much.”

I wonder who was doing the CEO’s job when this Thodey clown was playing Social Worker?


Adam has recently written on the Male Champions of Change that Thodey helped found.  Do go and read, but don’t expect him to be any more forgiving than I am.


15 thoughts on “Wrong Lesson Learned

  1. Back in the days of yore and I worked, there were (thankfully) few ‘diversity’ lectures to trouble us. I suppose however that it has all changed and events like the one outlined here have a huge effect of transforming, or slowing down, industry.

    I can make two points here.

    First of all the ‘chosen’ woman complained — there is no other word for it — that she was small. here’s news: she an inch taller than my wife and trust me, my good lady has no trouble being heard. She teaches people with learning difficulties and that comes with the added baggage of a whole slew of social problems and even legal issues clogging up the lives of the young people. She also teaches, given where we live, young Muslim males who are brought up to look down on white women in every way. She soon corrects their thinking with a well-aimed broadside of logic and reasonableness, but the impact of which leaves them in no doubt who is in charge. And no, she doesn’t complain: she gets on with it. That however, would be of no interest to this Elliott female.

    The second point is that I can almost guarantee is that Thodey was a bad CEO: he failed to recognise, despite his status, that people are people and talent comes in all shapes and sizes. A good boss recognises his workforce for what they are, guides them to do what is needed and if they can’t do it, he finds out why and sorts it out. Bad CEOs however run to form committees and lick their wounds at ‘humiliation’ There is no time for that in business. Get over yourself, Thodey. It doesn’t take a stranger to tell you what you should already be doing: a small, brown and ‘insignificant’ person may be really good at doing something good. The boss has to see the potential and use it, or the business suffers. End of.

    I would also suggest that all these diversity engagement programmes/programs might have left a nasty taste in the mouths of many of his workers. not because they are racist, whatever that is, but because every worker wants the best people working alongside them. Te reason is — shock horror — it makes every worker’s job easier if each person there does the job they are supposed to do. It’s nothing to do with shade of eye colour, but everything to do with application and attitude. So this fool’s workers would get the message that he thinks anybody would do to work at this business, and if someone is appointed because they aren’t white and can’t do the job in order to tick diversity boxes, they will feel their boss really doesn’t care about the business that employs them. By extension, he doesn’t care about them.

    All those who bang on about disadvantage always forget that there are shed-loads of people (my wife had taught many and seen them to go on to make living and build a life) who don’t let the superfluous and inconsequential get in the way. What these ‘trainers’ concentrate on, because that’s where the money is, is championing the ones who moan and whine because no one has given the self-obsessed any free hand-outs.

    Finally, and sorry for the length of this, I would say that this Thodey at the end made the classic mistake of touching this aggressive woman. After all that, the man was not bright enough to have recognised the woman was never, ever going to stand for anything approaching normal human contact. The act of touching someone, say on their arm, is usually a sign of acceptance and even basic humanity as in thanking them or perhaps consoling them, but Ms Elliott wouldn’t want that sort of thing, would she?

  2. “if not why not?”

    This refers to a corporate governance expectation for listed firms to increase the number of females at the Board level. A listed company must report against the sheilas at board level targets set by ASIC the regulator. If you dont meet its predetermined standard requirements you must report why not in your Annual Report.

    We are looking very closely at eventually listing in Singapore to avoid this kind of baloney.

  3. “I’m 6’4″ tall”

    I knew there was a reason I liked you. Tall masterrace reporting in.

  4. I knew there was a reason I liked you. Tall masterrace reporting in.

    Bwahahahahaha! You may collect your fluffy white cat from the crate over there, and proceed to the hollowed-out volcano.

  5. I used to work for IBM and they had a policy called BPFJ – best person for the job, regardless of gender race etc etc, and they changed this to a policy called diversity. it’ not doing so well I hear these days, thankfully I’m no longer there, was a nasty place to be an older white man.

  6. Another guy with a short wife here. My 5 foot Filipino wife is sweet, soft-spoken, and very unassuming. However, her white male bosses will barely make a move without her because she is so capable in her job. Other groups are trying to snag her. This whole theater about the woman mentioned above is complete bullshit. Perhaps nobody heard that woman because she didn’t have a damned useful thing to say. My wife has hesitated becoming an American citizen because she thinks we’re freaking nuts over this social engineering garbage usually driven by demented white folk all over the world. (Alas, Duterte may drive her to it though!)

  7. “why does it matter that the woman was a Torres Strait Islander?” Do they eat people?

  8. Unfortunately, they’re only going to wake up by having such things as this happening to them. I don’t wish it upon them but if it’s the only way to get them to wake up, well …

  9. A friend of my offspring asked me for advice. She is doing terribly well in her business career and has just been approached by an international corporation about a job they’d like to consider her for. They said that they wanted her for two reasons (i) she’s very good, and (ii) she’s a woman and they have a quota to meet. What did I think?

    I said (a) if offered it, she should pretend that only her competence matters, and she should accept the job if it appeals. But (b) she should realise that this company hasn’t a clue how to negotiate, which may give her pause. And (c) since the buggers don’t know how to negotiate and have a quota to fill, she should negotiate herself an extra-high salary.

    Auntie Tim, was I being too cynical?

  10. Auntie Tim, was I being too cynical?

    No level of cynicism is too high as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

    But if (i) was true then why mention (ii)? If she joins them, she might find herself working alongside women for whom (ii) was true but not (i). That usually isn’t much fun.

  11. Howard,

    Perhaps nobody heard that woman because she didn’t have a damned useful thing to say.

    That thought did cross my mind. Would have been a good retort from Thodey had he the wit to make it at the time. Now *that* would be CEO material.

  12. @Howard

    Great story there and it should be added that behind every good woman is a good husband.

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