update

Stepping up to respond to the findings of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) inquiry into sexual harassment at work, the AICD will hold a webinar for directors on 17 September. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins GAICD will discuss what directors and business leaders can do to help educate their teams about sexual harassment.

The report — Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) — recommended the AICD and the Governance Institute of Australia, in consultation with the Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, develop education and training for board members and company officers on good governance in relation to gender equality and sexual harassment. The commission encourages boards to consider sexual harassment as an important “non-financial risk”.

The inquiry examined the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, the drivers of this harassment and measures to address and prevent sexual harassment. From September 2018 to February 2019, the commission conducted 60 consultations as part of the inquiry, with more than 600 individuals participating in all capital cities and some regional locations across Australia. It also held three roundtables and numerous meetings with key stakeholders. There were 460 submissions from victims, government agencies, business groups and community bodies.

“There is an urgency and demand for change across all corners of society,” said Jenkins. “One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years. Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue, it is a societal issue, which every Australian and every Australian workplace can contribute to addressing.”

“Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue, it is a societal issue, which every Australian workplace can contribute to addressing.” Kate Jenkins GAICD, Sex Discrimination Commissioner

The commission heard that the current system for addressing workplace sexual harassment in Australia is complex and confusing for victims and employers to understand and navigate. It also places a heavy burden on individuals to make a complaint. Most people who experience sexual harassment never report it.

The results of Everyone’s Business: Fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, conducted by the HRC in 2018, have informed the HRC findings as part of this inquiry, providing a clear picture of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The HRC recommended a new regulatory model, which recognises that the right of workers to be free from sexual harassment is a human right, a workplace right and a safety right. The proposed model involved the establishment of a Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, to be chaired by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and funded by the federal government. The council would include the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission, Safe Work Australia, the heads of workplace safety authorities and workers’ compensation authorities, and the Australian Council of Human Rights authorities.

The 2018 HRC survey provided insights into workplace sexual harassment. When asked about the most recent incident, people who had experienced workplace sexual harassment in the past five years said:

  • 64 per cent were sexually harassed by a single harasser.
  • 79 per cent said one or more of their harassers was male.
  • Where the most recent incidents involved a single harasser, 54 per cent indicated the harasser was 40 or older.
  • Victims said the harasser was most commonly a co-worker who was employed at the same level.

For more information or to register for the Respect at Work - The AHRC's landmark report on workplace sexual harassment webinar, click here.