Do we really have to wait for legislation to make workplaces safe for women?

Do we really have to wait for legislation to make workplaces safe for women?

White Ribbon Australia National Director Allan Ball gives his view.

“White Ribbon Australia welcomes new laws introduced into Parliament this week, which would require employers to take a proactive approach to preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

This follows the government’s commitment to fully implement seven recommendations in the landmark 2020 Respect@Work report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

White Ribbon Australia sees the adoption of a national strategy to address respect, notably sexual harassment at work, as an important step forward for Australian labour relations.

Making this a national strategy places more of an emphasis on prevention of workplace harassment and abuse, rather than simply responding in a crisis. Currently, Victoria is the only jurisdiction with a positive duty for businesses to prevent sexual harassment.

Do we really have to wait for legislation to make workplaces safe for women? Not at all. Organisations already have the power to implement reforms that foster a culture of respect.

However, it’s important that workplaces are supported through this process. Areas of policy, practise, procedure, and culture all require attention if we are to achieve the desired outcomes.

The right ingredients start with good governance, managers and supervisors being adequately trained in prevention and leaders and board members taking a solution-focused mindset towards prevention. In addition, robust policies encompassing wellness and wellbeing are needed to implement preventative approaches in workplaces.

Leaders can actively promote and role model gender equality, respect, safety, and support within their organisations. Leaders can actively show their dedication to stopping violence against women and take responsibility for any violations of the code of conduct.

External contractors should also be required to follow the organisation’s code of conduct, as they may interact with workers, customers, and clients when visiting the premises, via email, and/or over the phone.

Ending violence, harassment and gender discrimination should be the business of everyone who engages with others within a workplace.

Businesses don’t have to go it alone, assistance is available to evaluate existing workplace culture, identify areas where change is required and champion initiatives to make workplaces a safe and inclusive place for people of all genders.

Businesses of all sizes, from sole proprietors to large multinational corporations, should not look at this as an added cost, but rather an investment in their people and culture.

White Ribbon Australia’s Workplace Accreditation Program currently supports more than 300,000 employees across every State and Territory. The program actively supports employers to make the shift towards more solutions-focused, proactive workplaces.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that all businesses take a deep-dive into their workplace culture, not as a tick-and-flick exercise, but to address the serious issues laid bare by reports and enquiries over the past few years.

These include the report into the treatment of women working in the WA mining industry, changes to the psychological safety legislation in Victoria and the Respect@Work Report.

The time for change is now.”

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