What is “Callout Culture” and How Has it Impacted the Business Landscape?

No major business decision happens in a vacuum anymore, with an entire online community there to weigh in, offer their thoughts and often call out businesses on the direction they take.

Calling out someone online is entirely unpoliced, with the main mission to humiliate a person or group, or hold them accountable to their action. The problem is, we all subscribe to different schools of thought, walks of life, and deploy our own measure of online etiquette making the comments section a pretty ugly place a lot of the time. So, how can businesses possibly get it right every time?

The growth of technology has certainly come with an onslaught of public opinion, which has all kinds of significant impacts on the way a business runs. Let’s look at how callout culture has driven some controversial events in Australia and assess those outcomes, both negative and positive.

Callout culture has pressured businesses to operate at the sentiment of the audience, rather than the law

When the audience directs the narrative through social outcry and callout culture, businesses are put in a complicated position. In the case of Israel Folau’s firing following his homophobic social posting – Qantas and Rugby Australia weren’t just in a complicated position, but they might even be liable for how they acted.

McDonald Murholme lawyers specialize in employment law and have questioned the conduct of Qantas (sponsor) signaling to Rugby Australia that Folau’s behavior has impacted their brand, which prompted Folau’s contract to be terminated. Qantas undoubtedly felt the pressure from their customers and stakeholders to make a stand against Folau’s actions, but should their interests be more important that Folau’s who is an employee of Rugby Australia?

The problem with callout culture is that it is biased, and while we are not taking away how unfair and cruel Folau’s statements were, we can’t rely on society to make a measured assessment of the circumstances, and they shouldn’t have that sway in the first place.  That’s why laws are in place. This is a case where opinion has turned to action, and as Alan McDonald has stated, Rugby Australia acted in favor of the public and Qantas – not their own player, with callout culture costing Folau his job.

Callout culture has kept big businesses accountable

Whatever side of the political debate you fall, we are all wary of big businesses and trust that they will act appropriately. On the occasions when they don’t, you can almost bet on the fact that callout culture will extract the truth and put businesses in a position where they must act. At the end of 2019, the public learned that a number of heavyweight retailers had underpaid their employees, and was yet to set a date as to when employees could expect to see their money. Woolworths, Bunnings, ABC, Commonwealth, Super Retail Group, and Michael Hill Jeweller were amongst some of these businesses with varying repayments owed and duration of underpayment.

Andrew Jewell, principal at McDonald Murholme, stated it’s not as easy as identifying an issue, but these employers must go over every single payment slip against the award wage, not to mention finding these employees who are no longer working for the company and likely won’t have the same address.

When the news broke and the public took the story, plans and timelines quickly emerged with a plan to compensate these employees. In this instance, you could argue that callout culture has brought the right outcome to the surface, with all employers committing to repaying staff offering full transparency on when that will be and how much it will cost.

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In the case of Israel Folau, callout culture might have strongarmed Rugby Australia into making a decision that they thought their sponsor and the public needed to see, but this action wasn’t altogether ethical and played into the hands of a sponsor, rather than the employee.

We can also see that the underpaid masses might not have seen the same swift and compliant action had their not been social commentary surrounding the events. Callout culture truly is case by case, and businesses should act true to their values and the letter of the law, whether or not that is also the sentiment of the public.

Dragan Sutevski

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan