It is now becoming clear how women have been – and continue to be – treated in the Australian workplace. Brave individuals are finally speaking up with allegations of gender-based workplace violence, including sexual predation, bullying and harassment, across all layers of government and business.
The stories of inequality in the workforce are not new – these issues have been in Australian business and in the Australian community for a long time. And many organisations across Australia have had policies and procedures in place to protect employees from harassment and discrimination for many years, with Australia one of the earlier nations to introduce legislation to protect equality.
Yet offences continue to be reported, and it is clear that the policies and systems put in place are not 100% effective. While these controls are useful, not enough is being done to change behaviours, enforce compliance and improve the culture as it applies to women in the workplace and gender equality.
The effort needed to protect and develop women in the workforce and drive towards gender equality extends far beyond simple policies and training, and will require the implementation of broader initiatives around behavioural change, cultural development, and zero-tolerance enforcement. This active and positive rebalancing of gender equality will only be achieved with a high degree of focus on these issues and a relentless passion to implement, measure and report out on achievements.
Because of the amazing courage of the women who are speaking up there is now more focus on the sexism and dangerous workplace cultures many women are facing in Australia every day. Slowly and almost grudgingly there has been some acceptance that issues exist and that they should be addressed. What is so sad, however, is that in almost every case identified in the press, the woman subjected to such inequality or harassment has already left the employer where the incident happened. This shows that not only do we have a problem with gender-based workplace violence and discrimination, but we also have problems with giving women the opportunity to speak up about it without fear of retaliation and in an anonymous way (if they choose to remain anonymous).
So how can government and business leaders – and this includes in-house lawyers, compliance people, HR teams, managers at all levels, executive teams, CEOs and boards of every organisation across the country – start the alignment to gender equality?
Here are ten steps that organisations must take as soon as possible:
Announce the plan to tackle the problem and focus on the moral and ethical issues that arise from gender inequality. The announcement should come from the very top of the organisation and be followed up with clear actions, ownership, goals and timelines, and what defines ‘success’.
Hold sessions across the organisation to observe, gather feedback, cultivate solutions and, most importantly, listen to everyone’s concerns. The goal of these sessions is to observe behaviours and determine the culture of the organisation regarding gender as these elements will determine where the implementation challenges will be across the organisation.
Develop and implement a diverse and cross-functional team to look at the problems, and hold that team accountable for making recommendations within a short period of time. This group should include both internal and external resources and be supported and led by management.
Document and publish a commitment from management to implement all possible recommendations and follow up clearly if those recommendations are not implemented in a timely manner. Any ‘no brainer’ recommendations that don’t require a committee or study group should be delivered immediately.
Hear all voices
Implement a tech-driven speak-up system that enables simple, quick and detailed anonymous (if requested) reporting and procedures to support follow up, review, escalation, investigation and reporting.
Turbocharge the assess, review and revamp phase
Immediately assess hiring practices, salaries, remuneration and management at all levels to determine the current gender balance and put in place urgent strategies (even pending the outcome of the listening sessions or the committee) if there are obvious clear gaps that the business has committed to improving. These strategies might include reviewing and implementing or revamping:
- recruitment and employee development policies to ensure gender equality
- salary guidelines to ensure parity and immediately fix obvious gaps
- peer-review systems for salary assessments and promotions to guarantee gender independence
- parenting and family leave entitlements for all genders
- bullying controls and awareness across the organisation
- counselling and other mental-health support for anyone feeling uncomfortable about past or current situations through an employee assistance programme or other externally-supported programme
- rules for gender inclusion and ratios in teams, groups and management and enforcing participation and inclusion.
Immediately review all physical safety and security systems across the company, such as access controls, lighting, alarms and wellbeing systems, to ensure personal safety of women across the workplace. Regardless of gender, everyone should feel totally safe and secure at all times in the workplace.
Management should communicate regularly and broadly on the outcome of the listening sessions and the assessment and revamp phase. The communication should be across multiple platforms and should focus on the future shared vision of a safe and equal workplace.
Organisations should hold themselves accountable by publicly reporting their stats to gender-equality agencies such as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, even if not legally obliged to do so. These stats should also be sent out in a brochure or included in an annual report. Don’t just include a simple paragraph of high-level aspirations – it sends the wrong message and suggests the organisation either doesn’t have any systems in place or is embarrassed by its gender statistics.
The review, testing, assessment and improvement stages should be constantly cycled through and the processes continually improved. Any changes must be captured and built into the system, with an annual review of the entire system.
While gender-based violence and discrimination is in the spotlight across all media platforms, government and business leaders must accept a call to action to do something. Start taking active and positive steps to correct and rebalance the genders across government and business.
Our position at Speeki is that all voices should be heard – not just listened to but heard. This includes the voices of employees, suppliers, partners, shareholders and even members of the community. That voice should travel directly to those in power, via multiple avenues and without repercussions. We believe that tools like the Speeki platform are essential for employees and partners of organisations to raise issues, give feedback and report on poor activity in a secure, private and anonymous (if requested) way, right from a mobile app or web device.