Australian employers need to take more responsibility to foster a workplace culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment, says Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius.
In a recent discussion into the findings of the independent review in sexual harassment and discrimination within Victoria Police, Cornelius noted that workplace leaders should be champions of organisational change.
“Focusing on 'bad apples' actually doesn't work,” Cornelius says.
“Yes, we need to continue to do that, but in terms of that activity itself registering in the minds of everyone else in the organisation, it just doesn't cut through."
Cornelius says Australian workforces should assume the lead role in driving accountability with perpetrators in the workplace, instead of the current complaint-driven and investigation-led system.
A key factor for Victoria Police in helping to create organisational change is having a very highly committed executive team which was prepared to spend time listening and learning, rather than just jumping straight into treating the symptoms, Cornelius says.
"The piece around listening, learning and reflection is very important before you engage with the challenge of driving change," he says.
The Review, which was delivered by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) last December, found a high level of tolerance for sexism and sexual harassment throughout Victoria Police, especially among supervisors and managers.
“An entrenched culture of ‘everyday sexism’, coupled with a high tolerance for sexual harassment, has left many current and former Victoria Police employees harmed, sidelined and deeply disillusioned,” the Review states.
“In addition to the serious consequences for safety and welfare, sex discrimination and sexual harassment carries significant costs for the organisation.”
The most common form of sexual harassment was ‘sexually suggestive comments or jokes’ and women were most likely to be targeted by a colleague more senior in rank or grade, the Review found.
Many sexual harassment cases went unreported, as male and female victims felt there would be negative consequences for their reputation.
The Review also found that channels for formal complaints were convoluted, relied too heavily on criminal thresholds, were not victim-centric and that a lack of confidentiality was a major deterrent to reporting.
Lander & Rogers Partner Patrizia Mercuri says organisations must take steps to address issues of key diversity and inclusion, with the focus being on inclusion rather than simply accommodation.
HR professionals should also consider doing an audit of their organisational culture and workplace policies to determine where their employer needs to improve on its attitude towards sexual harassment, she says.
"Obviously not every organisation needs to go to the extent that Victoria Police has in this case, but certainly it might be useful to review what is actually going on within a workplace,” Mercuri says.
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An independent review has found a culture of widespread sexual harassment within the Victoria Police and serves as a wakeup call for organisational leadership to champion cultural change.