Bullyologist Jessica Hickman is paving the way for healthier workplace culture with her Upstander Movement.
She talked to us about the future of Aussie businesses, how to make a meaningful change, and her new book.
Tell me about your experience working in the construction industry. How did being bullied by your manager affect you?
My manager was a serial bully. The more successful I became, and the more recognition my work gained, the more disgruntled he got. He would physically try to intimidate me, constantly undermine my efforts and break down my confidence. I felt completely alone and helpless, which ultimately led me on my mission to develop Bullyology and raise awareness about the toxic bullying and harassment happening in Australian workplaces.
Tell me about the Upstander Movement. Where did the idea come from and how did you go about setting it up?
I couldn’t understand why the leaders in my organisations weren’t dealing with workplace bullying. And then realised there was such a thing called ‘The bystander effect,’ where people stand by, turn a blind eye, or walk by certain incidents because they just don’t want to get involved. I could clearly see there was a problem with bad behaviour becoming the norm in workplaces, so I decided to teach people what they could do to be an Upstander. The Upstander Movement is about helping people become the champions and custodians of workplace culture through awareness, dedicated training, and capability building.
What has the reaction been like from the schools and workplaces that participate in your workshops?
Extremely positive, people are loving the proactive approach to building a speak up culture. In particular students and employees appreciate working for a company or being in a school environment where this issue is addressed rather than ignored. It’s been really exciting to see organisations doing more than just ticking a box. They’re putting in the hard work to create systemic cultural change. I think people are really receptive to the training because they feel empowered. Finally bad behaviours at the top of the country’s food chain are being called out. Bullying and harassment are being rejected on a global scale, and businesses are trying to end workplace bullying.
Your focus is on creating healthier workplace cultures. Are there any major changes you feel Australia needs to make as a whole?
I think we need to start by reframing thoughts around bullying. We need to alter our mindsets away from ‘this is the way we have always done it.’ With the workplace becoming more and more multicultural and multi-generational, these ideas just aren’t going to fly. We need to be purpose driven, with the values of empathy, ethics and equality. To stay current and relevant, businesses need to be proactive and fight to be better.
Your new book, The Upstander Leader: How to develop a speak-up culture, comes out on 27 September 2022. What inspired you to write this guide?
A lot of business leaders were reaching out to me saying that they wanted to create change. They wanted to make sure that they were not unconsciously becoming involved in unethical practices. They needed to modernise their own mindset. After running workshops for many years on the Upstander movement, I decided that it was time to package it in a book for leaders. So, I wrote this step by step guide, which ultimately is a toolkit for existing and emerging leaders on how to create a thriving workplace culture and spark change. Upstanders are the most proven weapon against workplace bullying and harassment, as they diffuse toxic culture and promote wellbeing within a workplace, so I wanted to share how we can all make this change.
What can we be doing on an individual level, in order to support this move towards healthier working environments?
Grab a copy of the book, engage in a session within your workplace, and commit to being an upstander!
Throughout your programs, there’s a big focus on the next generation. Have you noticed a difference to how young people react to workplace harassment, compared to others?
We’re living in a really interesting time at the moment. Young people are coming into the workplace valuing diversity, inclusion and belonging, and they want to work for organisations that value these things too. Organisations that don’t promote this culture are losing staff, because the next generation is fighting back.
What’s next for you and the Upstander movement?
Lots of exciting things are happening for the Upstander movement. The new book is coming out, and I’m also going to be doing lots of talks and workshops with proactive organisations across Australia. The new version of the Upstander Academy is also about to launch, which will house all the content on the Upstander movement and be packed with lots of activities on how to create a speak up culture. So yes, I’m very excited about this next chapter.
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