Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia, weighs in on the national inquiry into workplace harassment, and what this means for businesses operationing in a #MeToo world
It goes without saying I am pleased that the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has announced an independent national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and partially funded by Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Women.
This means that, along with the work of many in the gender equity space, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have translated into action, and that this topic is finally being taken seriously by wider society.
Now, we are going to find out exactly what’s happening in our workplaces. We hope to be able to uncover the actual prevalence of the problem. And more importantly, we’re going to get recommendations that will help us enable women to live their lives free from harassment and discrimination, at least in the workplace.
The AHRC has been gathering statistics on workplace sexual harassment for a considerable amount of time. They are right now conducting their fourth national survey into how widespread workplace sexual harassment is. Depressingly, early indications show the rates may be higher than before.
“Along with the work of many in the gender equity space, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have translated into action”
We know from the last survey, carried out in 2012, that one in four women and one in six men had been sexually harassed at work.
These stats show what’s happening. But the national inquiry will also get beyond the numbers to who, why, and more importantly how to stop this trend.
Here’s what I hope the inquiry will give us:
- Measurement of the problem – We need a real understanding of just how widespread the problem is. We need to get beyond the culture of silence that surrounds this issue, because people have been too afraid to come forward in an environment that, until now, has protected predators and minimised victims’ claims.
- Culture change – On a national level, sexual harassment has been outlawed for more than 30 years, but it still persists because of individual organisational culture. We will know what exactly is making this toxic behaviour acceptable behind closed doors.
- No limits – An objective and external third party asking the questions will make many feel safe and able to use their voices.
- Recommendations – Kate Jenkins has already said that everything is on the table in terms of consequences and outcomes. The inquiry will examine current laws, and provide a collective solution that we can all be part of.
“On a national level, sexual harassment has been outlawed for more than 30 years, but it still persists because of individual organisational culture”
Ultimately, we should hope for something that has depth, integrity, and substance; something which doesn’t gloss over the problem, but gets right to the very heart of it.
It’s disheartening to see some parts of the media already discounting the national inquiry. Some call it a witch hunt. But a search for truth and safer working environments for women should be seen as a positive step.
Personally, I see this as an opportunity for everyone – men and women, business and government – to come together and contribute towards a good outcome for Australian workplaces.
As an organisation with close to 500 members, many of whom are Australia’s biggest employers, Diversity Council Australia will be supporting Kate Jenkins and Kelly O’Dwyer in their efforts.
I would urge everyone else to do the same.
Because ultimately, organisations that have nothing hide, have nothing to fear. They only have something to gain.
This opinion piece was first published in Inside HR.