Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to guest speak at the upcoming Not In My Workplace Summit (NIMW) in Melbourne.

MCB CEO Karen Boliger is Summit Chair of NIMW and among those launching this important event in Melbourne on 21 February at MCEC.

Not In My Workplace is about turning awareness into action, and action into systemic and societal change. Kate will present the Big Picture session at 12.25pm, informed by her National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces.

In September last year, the commissioner released findings confirming that workplace sexual harassment in Australia is ‘widespread and pervasive’ and has increased significantly in the last six years (Kate Jenkins 2018). Unfortunately, this will not be news to many. The question is not whether harassment is happening in our organisations, but how we as leaders decide to act on harassment as a strategic risk in order to protect our workplaces, our people and our society from its insidious existence.

‘Sexual harassment is less about sex than about the abuse of power’

Kate Jenkins links sexual harassment in the workplace to power dynamics more broadly. She notes that ‘over the course of a lifetime: 85% of women and 57% of men have reported being sexually harassed on at least one occasion’. In her address to the National Press Club last year, the commissioner dispelled the myth that workplace harassment happens only in some industries. Instead finding that ‘unwelcome sexual conduct was experienced across the full range of industries, occupations and employment status.’

The commonality across the vast issue is that where there is an imbalanced power dynamic, there is abuse. Women are more likely to suffer abuse in male-dominated industries whereas men report being targeted by groups of predators in female-dominated industries. The commissioner outlined the likelihood that people earning lower incomes, workers identifying as LGBTIQ+, Aboriginal or Indigenous workers and workers with a disability were significantly more likely to be targets of abuse. She highlighted also that the same person would repeatedly harass multiple people in the same workplace, highlighting ‘the impunity’ of predators and the culture of silence that keeps them safe.

‘Employers are asking for solutions’ (Kate Jenkins 2018)

So, in a system where businesses and institutions rely on power structures to organise people, to allocate tasks, to determine lines of reporting, levels of reward and even seating arrangements, how can we disrupt the ‘status-quo’ allowing abuse of power and switch to a culture of empowerment?

Let’s start by having the conversations, not quietly, behind closed doors. But firmly, persistently and pragmatically, with our boards, our management teams, our policy makers and our employees – beyond the HR department. Let’s dig deep to understand the ‘whys’ and come together to commit to the ‘hows’. Let’s make workplace sexual harassment everyone’s business.

Just as harassment requires the compliant cloak of ‘normalcy’ to continue to manifest itself, empowered working environments require a clear understanding of what constitutes harassment, a supported call to action for witnesses or targets of abuse and visible consequences in order to triumph.

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Not In My Workplace Summit