News

Disrupting the system on sexual harassment

Members of our coalition including Elizabeth Broderick AO,  Kathryn Fagg AO, James Fazzino, Stephen Fitzgerald AO, Annika Freyer, Janet Menzies, Martin Parkinson PSM AC and Andrew Stevens describe how business leaders can work together to end sexual harassment in the workplace. More detail will be provided in a new MCC report to be released in the coming weeks.

 

10 July 2020

Sexual harassment in the workplace is rightfully getting much attention at the minute. That is as it should be given the psychological, emotional and physical toll, the distress and pain experienced by countless women over many decades. It’s not a political issue.  It’s a human issue.

Offenders must know they will not be protected by organisations in the interests of performance, position or reputation. Action will be taken and there will be consequences. It is not enough just to say you stand for gender equality. You need to take action.

When our Male Champions of Change coalition started 10 years ago, very few men CEOs or their organisations were specifically focused on advancing gender equality in the workplace including eliminating sexual harassment.

The idea was to enlist men CEOs, to step up beside women and be accountable for leading change with them on gender equality. Overall, this has been a positive although, there is much more to do and faster. Members see this work as a business, social and economic imperative, though it’s true some of us rankle at the name “male champion”.

We have had a specific focus on sexual harassment over the past few years and much change has occurred in our organisations as a result. We know that achieving gender equality and advancing more women into leadership is one of the most effective strategies in changing cultures where sexual harassment occurs.

We have listened to women employees. We have researched why and how sexual harassment occurs. We have engaged with the people who deal with sexual harassment in our workplace, including CEOs, Boards, our human resource leaders, legal advisors and communications teams.

We have paid particular attention to the landmark report, [email protected], arising from the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces led by the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

What we know from this work is that leaders can use the organisational systems they steer to eradicate sexual harassment, but it does require some significant shifts.

Leaders must develop workplace cultures that prioritise safety, respect and inclusion for all.

Eliminating sexual harassment must be central to strategies and systems already in place to ensure workplaces are physically and psychologically safe. Like our occupational health and safety obligations – this means a focus on prevention and early intervention, incident and consequence management and transparency in reporting to boards and external stakeholders.

All employees must understand what constitutes sexual harassment in all its forms and be supported to speak up about issues they observe or know of – because rarely does this behaviour take place unnoticed.

We must provide better care and support for people impacted. This means ensuring their wishes are listened to and prioritised and that they retain the right to share their stories if and how they want to, rather than being silenced in the interests of legal and reputation risk management.

The real risk to organisations is the human cost of not preventing sexual harassment or not addressing it in the right way. The actions you take as a leader say everything about what you and your organisation values – especially if you prioritise power and performance over the well-being of employees.

Privacy, confidentiality, due process and natural justice remain essential for employees irrespective of their position in an organisation. But, once an outcome is determined, transparency is critical. Organisations need to learn from it. Stakeholders are entitled to know about it whilst taking into account the confidentiality preferences of the complainant.

This is particularly important when it involves the most senior people.

These are not system shifts that ‘take time’ – we know organisations are capable of rapid, radical change. Sexual harassment requires action now.

We thank everyone who contributed to the work we have done on sexual harassment in our workplaces, in particular Kate Jenkins, MCC National 2015 Convenor and Sex Discrimination Commissioner for her valuable advice and tireless work on this issue.

Male Champions of Change will release their new report on preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace in the coming weeks.

 

James Fazzino, Chair of Manufacturing Australia Member and Co Convenor Male Champions of Change

Martin Parkinson PSM AC, Chancellor of Macquarie University, Member and Director Male Champions of Change

Stephen Fitzgerald AO, Managing Partner, Affirmative IM; Member and Director Male Champions of Change

Andrew Stevens, Chair Innovation and Science Australia, Member and Director Male Champions of Change

Janet Menzies, Chair, Male Champions of Change

Kathryn Fagg AO, Director Male Champions of Change

Annika Freyer, CEO, Male Champions of Change

Elizabeth Broderick AO, Founder, Male Champions of Change