Six Steps to take to prevent sexual harassment at work.

Update – Respect@Work Bill was passed November 28, 2022 – see Media.

Original Article

The Respect at Work Bill is before the parliament. This Bill will implement the remaining recommendations from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s landmark report into sexual harassment.

It’s been a long time coming, and DCA is supportive of the Bill. The implementation of the changes the Bill requires bring opportunities for employers and workplaces.

One of the most significant changes in the Bill will be that it will introduce positive duties that will require employers to be proactive about the prevention of sexual harassment at work. This is a good thing – until now, the onus has been on those who are harassed at work to make a complaint, and for many reasons, many don’t.

Under-reporting of sexual and sex-based harassment is devasting for organisational culture and when incidents are reported, the damage is already done both to the victim-survivor and the workplace more generally.

Victim-survivors often report they are negatively impacted by the experience of reporting.

Flipping the onus and requiring employers to be proactive in prevention is a critical step in making workplaces safer, and reducing incidents of harassment, for everyone.

DCA has long been advocating for these changes. We think it will have a positive impact on workplaces – and our community.

Many workplaces are in fact already taking a proactive approach to preventing sexual and sex-based harassment, and so this change will only mean a formal recognition of what they are already doing.

But we also know that some organisations are concerned about what this will mean for them.

Six Steps for change

I have been working with businesses for over 30 years, and here are six steps that I would recommend businesses take now, to create workplaces that are not just proactive in addressing gender inequalities but are proactively gender equal.

  1. Recognise the Continuum of Sexual Harm – Sexual harassment is part of a continuum of harm that begins with disrespectful beliefs and attitudes. While not all disrespect toward women results in sexual harassment or violence, all violence and harassment begins with disrespectful behaviour. To be proactive in preventing sexual harassment we need to start by recognising and addressing this disrespect.
  2. Focus on Gender Equality – Gender inequality is the key power disparity that drives sexual harassment. Pay equity, women in leadership, consideration of caring and recognition of domestic and family violence and its impact at work are all steps employers can take to address gender inequality.
  3. Focus on building a respectful workplace culture – Organisations should be attuned to changing expectations of workplace behaviour and meeting basic legal requirements is not enough. The tone should be set from the top and evidence-based training programs linked to organisational values in place. Programs that encourage upstanding, and not bystanding about sexism at work are useful in prevention.
  4. Focus on building inclusion at work – DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index shows that inclusion is good for business, and that workers in inclusive teams are 5 times less likely to experience discrimination and/or harassment.
  5. Focus on HR Processes and practices – Preventing workplace sexual harassment is about more than just grievance processes, it involves the whole employee lifecycle, from recruitment, development, promotions, to performance management. Ensure your HR policies are gender neutral: Organisations should ensure that human resources policies and processes are designed and delivered to be gender neutral. This can be achieved by applying a gender lens to organisational policies and involving people of different genders in any review of policies and processes. Build capability: Organisations should also ensure that they are building capability for Human Resources staff and people managers, for example around what constitutes gender-biased policies and processes, decision making and workplace behaviours and how to constructively provide feedback to staff in this regard. Ensure your complaints processes are effective: Ensure that you have a complaints handling processes in place. This resource from the Australian Human Rights Commission includes good practice guidelines for internal complaint processes.
  6. Focus on Accountability – Boards, CEOs and managers should and will be held accountable for proactively working to prevent workplace sexual harassment. Make sure your legal frameworks are in place and you are meeting your responsibilities.

I know that what’s good for preventing sexual harassment at work, is also good business.

Positive duties present pay-offs far beyond preventing sexual harassment and assault at work and positive duties are necessary and absolutely, positively doable.

This piece was originally published by SmartCompany.