Australian CEOs pledge to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace

Salesforce chief Pip Marlow is among those agreeing to take a zero tolerance approach

Australian CEOs pledge to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace

CEOs of Australia’s leading businesses have signed a pledge to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace. Launched by Diversity Council Australia, the #IStandForRespect campaign is a public promise to take a zero-tolerance approach to gendered harassment and foster a workplace that is safe for everyone.

Salesforce CEO Pip Marlow, Rio Tinto chief Kellie Parker and EY CEO Tim Johnson are among those who have signed the pledge, as well as bosses at major banks like ANZ, Westpac and CommBank.

"As an Australian business leader, I've signed the #IStandForRespect pledge to stand strongly beside my values, and up against gendered harassment and violence,” Marlow told HRD. “Eliminating harassment and violence means safer and more inclusive environments, and is critical to delivering the innovation that Australia needs to build a better future for all our stakeholders."

It comes in response to the country’s growing awareness of the harassment that still exists in workplaces all over the country. The events of the last few months have shown that even in Parliament House – Australia’s most powerful workplace – harassment and gendered violence is rife. After Brittany Higgins bravely waived her right to anonymity earlier this year, campaigners have called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take the issue seriously and spark legislative change.

Read more: Culture the key to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

After mounting pressure, Morrison finally announced that the coalition government will enact all 55 recommendations “in full, in part or in principle” from Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report into sexual harassment. The report was published a year ago but until now, Morrison has avoided throwing his weight behind thorough legislative change that campaigners have long been calling for.

Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia and founder of the #IStandForRespect initiative, said it was an opportunity for business leaders to make a public commitment to ending harassment. As well as creating unsafe and dysfunctional workplaces, sexual harassment is conservatively estimated to cost the Australian economy $3.5 billion per year.

“Sexual harassment has been unlawful in Australian workplaces since 1984, yet it’s still a problem. Now is the time to move from words to committed, collective action,” she said.

“The bottom line is this: businesses can’t afford not to tackle sexual harassment. The #IStandForRespect pledge is a starting point, a way for them to be part of the change that will come.”

Read more: Sexual harassment can amount to assault

Based on the Sex Discrimination Commission’s 2018 survey, 33% of people who had been in the workforce in the previous five years had experienced workplace sexual harassment. The issue was more prevalent among women, with 39% of women and 26% of men having been harassed.

The report’s recommendations call for a number of changes to legislation and workplace culture, including extending the scope of time for victims to make a complaint from six months to two years and amending the Fair Work Act to include sexual harassment as a valid reason for dismissal.

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