Rory Foster, Gender Diversity Assessor, had just downed his second espresso and was starting to frisk. The new plumbed-in Italian machine they had campaigned so hard for was proving too much of a temptation at morning break.
“Oh my God, I’ve had a morning and a half with my trannie. She wants to change her first names to Samantha-Bryce – I’m not kidding – and she wants the $44 fee waived by the BDM because she claims her first two namings were gender biased.”
“What’s going to happen there, Rory?” asked Jennifer Ashton-Constantides, Diversity Sub-Commissioner.
“I thought there might be a way we could just pay the fee ourselves – I was going to ask you – but Sam won’t have it. She wants the fee waived by the BDM. So you can imagine what my afternoon is going to be like. I’ll have to walk over there or suffer a dozen disconnections before I can speak with anyone…”
“I’ve noticed their telephony is very poor.” Molly Diver, Legal Aid Consultant, deposited her usual shy comment, more to be included than through conviction. She seldom went past the one observation, though she seemed in a better humour this particular morning. Maybe it was the plumbed-in Saeco. Jennifer decided to give a little encouragment.
“And how has your morning been, Mollie? Did you get that Viet matter settled?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, but these ethnic Chinese Viets… Oh, I shouldn’t say it…”
“No, no…there’s nothing wrong with making observations about…I mean, it’s okay for you to describe…since you’re Asian yourself…or part-Chinese…you can have insights…”
Rory slapped his forehead.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you all! I met this new Chinese guy, and we made hot love.”
The company hooted, laughed; even shy Mollie Diver managed a smile. Rory continued:
“Only trouble is…I was horny again one hour later!”
Briefly, the laughter was uproarious. Then someone noticed the grave expression on Mollie Diver’s face. The laughter dwindled; the coffee drinkers began to edge apart, and away from Rory Foster.
“Excuse me.” Mollie’s voice was barely audible as she dropped her head and scuttled away in silence, leaving silent embarrassment behind her.
Mollie Diver had only been at the EWEC, the Equality With Equity Commission, for a few months and had already earned the nickname Mollie Diva. Yet another nickname for the exquisitely touchy lady was Stressing Mollie. She could be chummy and undemanding at times, at other times not; and her workmates quickly learned to “watch it around Mollie”.
Mollie did not get mad or even when she thought herself slighted: she got sad, and unmistakeably “stressed”. That would not be a primary problem in most workplaces, but the Equality With Equity Commission was one place where a deeply saddened member of staff was like a just-audible ticking bomb. The ticking did not indicate the strength of any eventual explosions.
In connection with incidents concerning Mollie, Mary-Louise Gallagher, Deputy Commissioner, had found it necessary to call in a number of staff for remedial consultation, a form of caution well short of a reprimand which covered the Commission against charges of inaction but also against charges of false accusation or harassment of the person subject to remedial consultation. Of course, one needed to be Mary-Louise Gallagher, or the Commissioner herself, the legendary Beatrice Wayling, to grasp all the nuances of remedial consultation.
After a while, Mary-Louise began to suspect that Mollie’s glowing credentials had come from a Human Rights and Justice Commission happy to see her move on. Mary-Louise raised the matter with Beatrice Wayling, who was quite definite.
“Let me tell you, ML, those turds at Human Rights see us as a place to dump problems. Problem clients, problem staff. We have to get smarter about this whole game. They’re angling to see us out of business or merged with them in a deal where we lose out. There isn’t a Labor government in sight, you’ve got funding cuts coming, as well as all those Murdoch whingers going on about why do we need an HRJC as well as a EWEC. If HRJC can make us look like the incompetent ones, they’ll be last man standing. Next time you get an applicant coming over from Human Rights, see me first. Or better still, just don’t give ’em the job.”
“But if their references are in order…”
“Stuff it. Just don’t give the job to anybody straighter or whiter. Christ, ML, do I have to draw you a picture? I came up the hard way when there was no EO, and nobody begged anyone’s pardon. My school was the Leichardt Branch of the Labor Party. The rules haven’t changed, just how we talk has changed. Play soft and you lose. This Mollie…she’s Asian?”
“Chinese, aboriginal and Jewish…or so she says.”
“Three problems, right there. I’m not being discriminatory, but…”
This latest incident, with Gender Diversity Assessor Rory Foster, would have to be taken further than a covering chat. Mollie Diver had absented herself from work and obtained doctor’s certificates where the words “exogenous depression” were used. While she had not lodged a complaint, her absence and those certificates could amount to serious trouble for the Commission.
Mary-Louise Gallagher had made not one but two staffing mistakes, though she was careful not to call Beatrice Wayling’s attention to the second. Rory Foster had arrived at the EWEC shortly after Mollie Diver. He was from the private sector, where he had held a senior position in Human Resources. (Mary-Louise had herself spent time in the private sector, as consultant for Wayling Associates, Beatrice’s own EO company through the 1990s.) An openly bisexual personnel executive seemed ideal at first, but a private sector background meant that Rory had failed to develop certain instincts and values, as his superior was now learning to her cost.
Still, even Rory Foster needed to be handled carefully. From his daily work at the EWEC, he knew how to frame a complaint as well as field one. This would be a case of experts on experts.
“Thank you for coming in, Mollie. We appreciate the effort you’ve made. Just to clear up a little matter, Rory Foster is on leave today.”
“Thank you for letting me know, Beatrice. It would be difficult for me, in the circumstances…”
Did Mollie Diver look smaller? Or was it the hunched posture and sluggish movements? Certainly, she was unwell. And was she close to tears? Her eyes were quite red.
The three person assessment committee – consisting of Beatrice, Mary Louise and Jennifer Ashton-Constantides – was to be kept as pleasant and informal as possible, while still meeting all guidelines and laws.
“Mollie, Jennifer was actually a witness to what was said by Rory, which means you have clear grounds to…to be…to be dissatisfied with…” Beatrice let her voice trail away. Her object had been to avoid expressions like “lodge a formal complaint” while wholeheartedly acknowledging Mollie’s grievance. Then Jennifer:
“Yes, Mollie, Rory’s remark, while intended as a joke, was certainly…not what anyone of us would have wanted to hear…”
“But you all laughed!”
“Oh, perhaps not all. Certainly there was laughter, and that was inappropriate. I’m a witness to the fact, and I’m with you all the way there. Well, not just on that point but on the whole matter. After all, the EWEC exists to counteract these very…influences.”
“When I worked for HRJC there was never anything like this…”
Beatrice cut in again:
“And I’m sure there hasn’t been anything like it here either, till now.”
Now Mollie was clearly weepy.
“It’s just that…my Jewish grandfather in Holland…I never knew him, and we couldn’t find him after the war. Then the rest of my father’s family…first the Japanese, then Chiang Kai-Shek, then Mao…”
Mollie began to sob quietly. The other three women said nothing, knew to say nothing.
“My grandmother on my mother’s side…she was Darwin Chinese with aboriginal blood…”
Mollie now burst into tears, leaving them stunned. Mary-Louise rose, walked round the table, and put her arms around Mollie’s shoulders, ignoring a warning glance from Beatrice. Mollie writhed a little then said through tears:
“Mary-Louise, I’m uncomfortable to be touched like this. If you don’t mind…my personal space…”
“Of course, of course.” A blushing Mary-Louise did a quick retreat back to her chair, not needing to glance to feel the cold glare from Beatrice. Still so much to learn about these matters!
Beatrice now took charge.
“Mollie, I want you to know that we are with you as women, as professionals, and as friends. I note that you haven’t done anything…formally, and I respect that. Of course, if you were to do something of a formal nature, I would respect that also.”
“Thank you. Thank you for that. I…still haven’t decided. There’s the doctor, my stress leave, other things to consider…”
“Of course, of course. And I want you to know that you can take as much leave as you like…in consultation with your physician, of course. I mean…certainly we want you back here…but your health is what comes first with us. But we want you back…we need you back…”
“I won’t be on the outer in future?”
“Oh, no way. In fact – and this has no connection with the matter in hand – we were thinking of setting up our own legal department. There’s been too much outsourcing of legals. You’d be the obvious choice to head up the department. I know money isn’t a primary consideration with you, but the position would be pretty senior.”
Mollie thought a while, then:
“Don’t you have to advertise the position? I mean, aren’t we supposed to have transparency in these matters?”
“Of course, but the Opportunities Act allows us far more leeway in that regard. We’re allowed to take into account all sorts of things that private and even most government bodies can’t: gender, ethnicity…and especially aboriginality. Don’t worry, the job’s yours if you want it. But I’m not holding out carrots to anyone. You must do what you feel is right about the…the upsetting matter with Rory. That’s another issue all together.”
Mollie dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, said nothing for a long moment, then:
“I don’t know…I just don’t know…”
“Mollie, your first function you will be to draw up new guidelines for interpersonal dynamics within the Commission. We thought we might refer to them as the Diver Guidelines…with your permission. There’s a good chance they’d be extended through all government agencies. But our priority will be to avoid a repeat of…of what happened recently.”
“It’s very interesting. But…I don’t know…” She dipped her head and stared at the tissue.
Beatrice, after shooting an exasperated glare at the others, went on:
“Mollie, we have the ability to forward a sum of money – tax-free, I might add – on the basis of a legal agreement between the Commission and you or your representative. The sum will be substantial.”
“I see. Oh, but I just don’t know. I suppose I should at least consider…But I’m a little worried about my situation when I return. I mean, it will be very hard if he is still here…You know, there are always scars…”
“We have a solution to that, Mollie. Rory won’t be here.”
“But I haven’t made any written complaint. There’s been no tribunal or anything like that.”
“Mollie, the Commission were thinking of opening a sort of shopfront in Western Sydney. You know, everyone talks about Western Sydney but there’s no real outreach from the likes of us and the HRJC. We’re being perceived as too inner-urban and it’s time our own discrimination against the geographical heart of Sydney stopped. The right sort of expansion gives us a chance to get more funding flowing while not spending much more than we’re spending now. Plus it’s an opportunity to name something else after Gough. In short, we are going to send Rory to Penrith.”
“But…can you do that? Public service guidelines say you can’t just demote and transfer…”
“Never mind all that. It won’t be a demotion. He’ll go.”
“You mean…you’re promoting him?”
Beatrice extended her hand across the table, while being careful not to make physical contact.
“Mollie, in our universe, there is no demotion.”
The Western Sydney Bootscooters were dancing Cowboy Boogie, a favourite number, so most of the tables were vacant as more and more patrons got up to join in. One couple, not dressed for the evening’s events, stayed drinking and watching on from their corner table.
Mollie Diver and Rory Foster had chosen Line Dancing Night at the Rooty Hill RSL for their meeting.
Mollie handed Rory a large brown envelope.
“Here you go. Your two thousand for this month.”
“Thanks…but can’t we transfer quicker than this? I’m not being greedy but I have my eye on this diesel Landcruiser, one soccer-mom owner.”
“Look, it has to be cash and a thousand is hard enough to explain. If I just dump fifty thousand on you…”
“I know, I know…but this beast has got a snorkel, new Coopers on all four, never seen gravel, fully garaged…”
“Tough it out, Rory. Anyway, now you’re a sub-commissioner you should be able to save a bit. And there’s always car financing. Even slobs with real jobs use that.”
“I suppose so…How’s your promotion working out?”
“Fine, fine…I’m just not cut out for the public service. They want me to write these guidelines for how everyone talks to everyone, how close they’re allowed to stand to each other…There’s even a recommendation on farting. No, I’m serious. Talk about bloody tedium! I tell you, hon, one more good tax-free settlement – a blockbuster this time – and I’m out of there. Then maybe you and I can have an official reconciliation and go travelling or something. My cousin, Pearl Chung, wants me in on a new bubble tea franchise. But, I dunno, bloody Chinese…”
The band struck up The Nutbush and, after wild applause, the thudding and foot-scraping continued. Rory sipped on his Crown Lager, stretched back in satisfaction, then:
“What do you think the chances are of anyone from the Commission springing us together here?”
“Hmmm, I can imagine Beatrice in her younger days…but not now. That old harpie won’t be happy till she’s Dame Beatrice Wayling with peacocks pecking on the front lawn…Say, handsome, you wanna dance?”
Rory looked out at the lines of cowboy and cowgirl-clad dancers with their fringed boots and spangled shirts.
“Nah, too gay for me.”