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University of Tasmania Workplace

At the University of Tasmania we are committed to creating and promoting an inclusive working environment open to differences, welcoming of diversity, intolerant of harassment and discrimination; where all people are treated with respect, fairness and justice. Our UTAS Statement of Values reinforces this through the core pillar ‘Working from the Strength Diversity Brings’. Our staff members come from around the world and we must all contribute to creating a supportive and inclusive culture. In our daily lives we have opportunities to create high-quality relationships across difference to further our common endeavours.

Our new People Strategy articulates the way in which we want to work, the environment we want to work in, and the ways in which people’s careers will be supported.

Here are some suggestions to help you think about your personal contribution to creating an inclusive culture.

Our staff members come from around the world, with very varied backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. We expect all members of the University to treat their colleagues with respect, fairness and justice. As an individual you are entitled to hold your own beliefs, but in your work role you are expected to work with people holding different beliefs.

Communication styles vary in different cultures. To people coming from a culture where the style is more direct, communication at the University may appear very indirect.

The University has an academic culture where people are encouraged to debate and challenge ideas. However the challenges should be on the ideas and approach and not a personal attack on an individual. Similarly, feedback should be constructive, and evidence-based. Some individuals have a more directive management style, but this should be clearly distinguishable from bullying. If you feel that you are being bullied or harassed, you may like to talk about your situation with a University Behaviour Contact Officer.

Much of our behaviour is determined by our culture, which is underpinned by our organisational values. At times misunderstandings between people with different expectations of our culture can occur. Test any assumptions and be patient in establishing good working relationships with colleagues.

Many of us work in shared office spaces, where we have to get along with our colleagues. Try to be sensitive to the needs of your colleagues. Things to think about include:

  • Minimise distractions when colleagues are trying to concentrate on work: keep social chat for later.
  • Contribute to keeping the tea or staff rooms clean and tidy, don’t leave dirty plates and mugs.
  • Share information on your personal needs: for example if you are allergic to nuts, you might want to ask colleagues to avoid bringing nuts into the office or shared kitchen facilities.
  • Warn new colleagues about any customs for celebrating birthdays, bringing in food to share etc. Be sensitive to dietary preferences and religious observance that may include fasting.
  • Explain local practices, which may not be obvious to a newcomer e.g. bringing your own specialty teas and coffee or pods, doing washing up etc.
  • Recognise that people may differ in their desire to socialise outside the office, and may have other commitments. Try to ensure that people do not feel excluded from the team because they do not join social events.
  • Check that any meetings are scheduled to take account of people’s working patterns and other commitments, including caring responsibilities.
  • Be sensitive in social chat: do not make assumptions about the gender of partners, or about relationships.
  • Personal space varies between cultures. You may be working with colleagues from around the world, some of whom have different norms on personal space and on physical contact. It may be helpful to talk about different preferences.

Recognising that people have different ways of working and being sensitive to their preferences may help to ensure that workplace relationships go smoothly. Things to think about include:

  • Avoid putting people on the spot by demanding an instant response. Some people may prefer to think about an issue and give a more considered response in writing.
  • Try to accommodate different communication preferences. Some like to discuss and debate, others have difficulty speaking in front of others and may prefer written communication.
  • Written communication has the advantage of providing a record, so it may be helpful to write brief notes from a meeting, to ensure an accurate record.
  • Brief conversations can easily be forgotten, so sending a follow-up email may be a helpful reminder.
  • It is always sensible to have written documentation of instructions and procedures. Some areas include photographs, for example of a laboratory set-up.
  • Providing papers in advance of meetings allows people to prepare for the meeting. It is not a good use of meeting time to expect people to scan long papers.
  • Some people prefer to think about the ‘big picture’ while others focus on the detail. In most projects both preferences are needed.
  • It is sensible for a manager to be aware of individual preferences and working styles when assigning tasks, and to check that individuals are happy with what is required of them. However individuals may choose to develop their skills in areas where they are weaker.

Efforts can be made to ensure that meetings are arranged and conducted in an inclusive way:

  • Try to arrange a meeting within core hours: meeting before 9 or late afternoon may be impossible for staff with childcare or other caring responsibilities, people with travel constraints or people working off-site.
  • Arrange the meeting at a time that maximises the attendance of part-time staff. Where there is no overlap time, vary meeting times and dates to ensure that all have the chance to attend occasional meetings.
  • Can people participate remotely via conference phones or video link?
  • Working lunches may be difficult for people for disability-related reasons. They may also conflict with religious observance.
  • Circulate the agenda and papers in advance, so that people who cannot attend in person can contribute. Some people find it difficult to read papers on the spot.
  • The Chair is responsible for ensuring that the agenda is followed, for timekeeping, and for ensuring that decisions are reached and recorded. They should ensure that all meeting participants have an opportunity to contribute. It may be helpful for the Chair to give very brief summaries of the discussion and clarify the action that has been decided.
  • Agree for someone to make brief minutes of action points, and circulate these afterwards. Check in private that an individual is happy to take minutes: this requires multitasking which some individuals may find very difficult for a disability-related reason.
  • Ensure that those who were not able to attend are informed what happened.
  • Very long meetings are often difficult for disabled people. Scheduling a 5 minute comfort break mid-meeting allows people to move around to relieve stiffness, use toilet facilities and relax concentration.

Ideas to think about include:

  • Giving an overview of the structure of your presentation at the start may make it easier for people who are not native English language speakers.
  • Presenting data graphically may make it easier to understand.
  • Providing handouts in advance allows people to do the advance preparation they need in order to understand your presentation.
  • Speak clearly, and not too fast. Brief pauses may help your audience to understand what you are saying. Signal clearly when you are introducing a new topic.
  • Humour may be misunderstood, so is best used in moderation.
  • Depending on the context, linking ideas to those already understood may help the audience to follow your talk.
  • When taking questions, it may be helpful to repeat the question so that the entire audience can hear. If asked about a specialist topic, which you suspect maybe unfamiliar to some listeners, you may want to provide some context for your answer.

The University will try to accommodate religious observance, subject to business requirements.

Things to think about:

  • If you want time for religious observance during the working day, discuss this with your manager. The University has Prayer Rooms on all campuses, but there may also be private rooms within your work area.
  • Make requests for annual leave for religious festivals well in advance of the date.
  • It may be possible to request a working pattern that accommodates religious practice, depending on the nature of the role and subject to business requirements.
  • The current University Staff Agreement will provide details on Cultural and Ceremonial Leave.
  • If you are providing refreshments for an event, ask about dietary preferences and make appropriate arrangements. It is always a good idea to have a vegetarian option, and to ensure that food is clearly labelled.
  • The Australian Governments Calendar of Cultural and Religious Dates will highlight for you religious festivals to avoid when scheduling events.
  • Be sensitive to the needs of students, staff and visitors who may be observing prolonged periods of fasting, such as Ramadan.