News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Thank you, Alan Joyce

When an individual takes part in an act of harming, harassing, or humiliating another with the intent of intimidating, influencing or injuring another individual, it is the very textbook and legislated description of bullying in Australia.

This week Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce was smacked in the face with a lemon meringue pie in front of an audience at a breakfast for 500 business people in Perth. Why? Because Joyce, an openly gay man, has chosen to create a culture that unapologetically supports the notion of equality in the organisation which he oversees.

The question of whether or not he was harmed in the incident is a moot point, while hypothesising around replacing the pie with a knife to demonstrate the potential severity of the situation is also useless commentary from the media that distracts from the skin and bones of the situation.

Fact: a man by the name of Tony Overheu made a calculated decision to publicly humiliate another man called Alan Joyce by smacking him in the face with pie because he is different and because he believes in a view of society that opposes his own.

There is nothing complicated here. It was a act driven by homophobic beliefs.

When people like Tony Overheu or publicly elected officials like Peter Dutton make remarks like “parliamentary processes are being subverted by activists” or that publicly known CEOs should “stick to their knitting” and not get involved in social policy debates, what they are really saying is that they wish to suppress the voices of individuals in society that have the potential to influence others by sharing their own story or those of employees within their organisation.

That is the thing about democracy, everyone gets to express their view – politicians, religious leaders, organisations, business leaders, activists, media commentators, the general public – we all get a go.

Society has changed the way it interacts with brands over the last two years in a major way. A myriad of studies conducted from the likes of Forbes, Harvard Business Review and the Australian Institute of Management all resulted in similar findings around the important role that activism now plays in a customer’s decision-making process about whether or not to do business with a company.

Generally speaking, people are more likely to spend money with organisations that support socio-political views that mirror their own. There is more trust in a CEO that is open and honest about how they feel about a particular subject or topic publicly.

The millennial generation does not only favour organisations that take a stance on social issues, they expect it – it influences not just their buying decisions but also plays a major role in their decisions around career opportunities.

On reflection, I think that this is why I have been so incredibly vocal about my support and excitement about the Qantas AVRO Accelerator program. Sure I like the layout of the program, the theme-driven selection process, and the opportunity for startup and scaleup companies to leverage the Qantas brand, which will result in a stronger startup ecosystem.

But, at the end of the day, I want to work with people and a company that are doing some good in the world, that are unapologetically speaking up on a topic that I feel passionate about.

When it comes to Joyce having a pie smashed in his face he has responded with the sentiment of making it clear that the bully should be held accountable for their actions and behaviour – hence pressing charges – and a very clear message to the public, parliament, and corporate Australia that the incident has served only to further invigorate his passion for the fight for marriage equality.

For me, a member of the LGBTQI community as a gay man, this reaction means so much more. It means so much more because I have experienced that kind of “pie in the face” humiliation before, as have many others in the LGBTQI community through various stages of their lives. How wonderful it is to have an active player at the top end of corporate Australia to look up to and take guide from – a role model for myself and other gay founders and future corporate executives.

If you can’t see something, it makes it harder to become that something. When I was in high school, media companies like Showtime and NBC and individuals like Ellen DeGeneres were responsible for championing a global conversation around the theme “it is okay to be gay” – it was an important step but hardly inspirational.

How happy I am that the young gay/bi/confused/questioning or curious men and women in high school all around Australia going through a tough time get something with more substance. They get to see that gay men can be successful business operators, can be powerful influencers on social and political issues, and be inspirational leaders and role models for young people everywhere.

Being that type of public leader takes an incredible amount of courage – and you taking that professional risk truly means a lot.

Thank you, Alan Joyce.

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