You will no doubt have seen in the media that the Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) has launched an inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces (Inquiry). It seems that the ‘watershed’ moment that the #MeToo campaign was hailed as, has indeed driven the momentum to keep the issue alive and for meaningful action to come from it.
There can be little argument that a culture that tolerates, condones or rewards inappropriate conduct or the wrong behaviours creates real and significant risk for an organisation – from a legal, commercial and reputational perspective. It is essential, both at Board and executive level, that there is an awareness and understanding of the organisation’s culture or cultures and the risks that arise through such a culture and, most importantly, that steps are taken to mitigate or remove those risks. Indeed, organisational culture and behaviours that are rewarded, encouraged or ignored, have been a key focus in the Financial Services Royal Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This focus is now moving to sexual harassment in the workplace. As Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner said, when she announced the Inquiry, which is believed to be a world first:
“These personal accounts [of men and women telling their stories of sexual harassment] have made clear the devastating impact sexual harassment can have on individuals’ lives, as well as the significant costs to business and the community. This spotlight on sexual harassment has turned the tide and created a clear and unprecedented appetite for change.”