Culture the key to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

Alice DeBoos (Human Resource Director)

A wave of anger and disillusionment on the part of women about sexual violence, misogyny and harassment has been unleashed in recent weeks. Although these issues have deep tentacles in broad societal norms and values, it is worth examining how to best eliminate from the workplace the kinds of behaviour that make women (and some men) feel belittled, unsafe, devalued and objectified.

After all, if we can get it right at work, where employers and employees are bound by additional obligations and regulations, that must assist in getting it right outside of work. But there is no silver bullet.

The laws are in place already so, in my view, this is not an area where legislative reform is the fix (although, of course, there are many suggestions in the Respect@Work Report that need to be considered). Given the rules exist that were designed specifically to stamp out discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace, why aren’t they being adhered to?

On paper, they are. The crux of the issue lies in workplace culture. Having training and policies in place that tick the compliance box, yet staff still don’t believe that they will be enforced or gain any real understanding of expectations from the training.

Having a whistleblower service and grievance procedure in place can operate in one of two ways. The first is where no one feels safe making a complaint and the second is where a culture of complaint has developed such that these services act as a post box for myriad grievances, few of which should be subject to any formal resolution procedure and many of which could be more productively resolved through a simple, respectful conversation between peers.


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