He is the tip of the iceberg but not in quite the way that you would think.
When a Systems Theorist comes across a phenomenon like Don Burke, he is identified as an event. We then look to see if he is a regular occurrence, a pattern or simply an event, a one-off, an aberration or whether he represents a pattern.
And yes, Don Burke represents pattern. Youbetcha. From the US perspective there is a clear pattern of accusations of harrrasment:
Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck, George H.W. Bush, Chris Savino, Roy Price, John Besh, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Lockhart Steele
So when we see these patterns emerging, we know they are not one-off events and that there is some underlying structure that is producing this pattern of behaviour.
In this instance, these structures are almost inevitably male dominated power structures particularly in the entertainment and film industries. These power structures rest upon the ability of the powerful men to manipulate the employment conditions, the opportunities of women in less powerful and dependent positions.
It’s also more subtle than that as the women in the ABC program testified. It’s implicit. The women don’t complain because they’re frightened that their employment will be threatened. In some instances, they have been told that they are expendable so they have to put up with it.
Such messages are communicated through the informal networks very quickly. So the fact that nothing gets done about complaints about people like Don Burke means that putting up with his behaviour becomes the norm. It becomes part of the culture, part of the structure of the organisation and industry.
But there is a more invidious element, one that is not touched on by the media. For all women who have denounced and rejected the advances of people like Don Burke, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein and their ilk, there will have been ones who did not and traded some sexual favours for advancement.
Those who agreed and cooperated, perhaps unwillingly, and accepted the benefits of that corporation no doubt see, in hindsight, that their success has come from their own talents rather than the compromises they made.
These women do not speak up, so we cannot judge. But by their cooperation, they have contributed to strengthening of the structures that lead to the perpetuation of the exploitation of women in the industry. And they reinforce, reward and encourage the behaviour of people like Don Burke. So he keeps doing it.
Underlying these systemic structures of exploitation are long-held mental models, values and attitudes that hold them in place. Without changing these mental models, there is very little chance that the behaviour of people like Don Burke will ever be changed.
The Systems Theorists argue that if you want be effective in bringing about change, you need to start the bottom of the iceberg with the mental models. It is difficult and its long-term. The least effective way is to deal with the events. Getting relived of Don Burke (an event) is highly ineffective. It won’t change much. It will serve as an example and will be effective in that respect.
But it won’t bring about systemic change. The next most effective way to bring about effective change is to change the systemic structures.
And changing systemic structures can also bring about changes in mental models. Changes in systemic structures changes the way people behave and that brings about changes in the way people think and that changes their attitudes and values. So if TV channels starts mandating certain forms of behaviour. Then the tide starts turning.
But is worth reflecting that one of the worst perpetuators of this form of of behaviour was elected as president of the United States of America having brazenly admitted to sexually harassing women.
A significant proportion of the people who voted for him, women included, simply don’t care about this kind of behaviour and he knows it.
These mental models values and attitudes are established over a lifetime. They are established within the family, in the schools, in the social networks in which children grow up and in the workplace.
Simply removing Don Burke from the workplace is not going to remove the problem. There are a lot of people who don’t like Don Burke and there is a strong feeling that there needs to be a fair amount of retribution and certainly will be.
But it’s not going to fix the problem.
Don Burke will never work again in the television industry in Australia. But people like him will continue to work until the mental models of people in the industry have changed.
The alarming thing about the revelations of the Tracy Spicer program on the ABC was that the senior executives behind Burke’s Backyard roundly denounced Burke yet did nothing about him in the face of complaints about his behaviour. David Leckie and Sam Chisholm, both senior executives at of Channel Nine, roundly condemned Burke.
Both appeared to have had knowledge of his behaviour. There appeared to be a large number of people who were partially complicit in keeping Burke working in the industry despite being aware of his behaviour. Public opinion is not going to treat these people well.
The reason being that the system of TV ratings, advertising revenue, sponsorship and executive salaries required that Burke kept appearing on television and people who complained were imminently replaceable whereas Burke was not.
Tracy Spicer says she has a list of 69 men who have sexually harassed women in the television industry. The systems theorist would say, “We understand that you want to fix the 69 men, but that’s probably not going to fix a problem. The system is the problem, the 69 men just a symptom.”
We also have an archetype called Fixes that Fail. It is a system archetype that in system dynamics is used to describe and analyze a situation, where a fix effective in the short-term creates side effects for the long-term behaviour of the system and may result in the need of even more fixes.
In this situation, you just keep removing the Don Burkes of this world and you don’t fix a system that produces them, they just keep popping up again.