New Respect@Work laws place a positive duty on employers to demonstrate they are taking reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment & victimisation in the workplace.
The first step in preventing sexual harassment at work is to acknowledge the risk and talk about it.
By now, all boards and leaders should understand:
- What constitutes sexual harassment at work
- Their responsibilities under the law to create safe, respectful & inclusive workplaces.
- That sexual harassment needs to be prevented and managed as health & safety risk.
- The critical role that they play in setting the tone from the top.
But understanding alone is not enough – leaders also need to take action to create safe workplaces where everyone can do their best work.
The positive duty aspect of the Respect@Work laws means that workplaces need be proactive to prevent sexual harassment, rather than waiting for an incident and an employee to make a complaint.
If your Board or Executive team believe that prevention of sexual harassment at work is not a key priority, consider this:
- Research by the Journal of Corporate Finance found that stock performance, profitability and labour costs are all impacted by sexual harassment. The study found that the average effect of a sexual harassment scandal is significant with around 1.5% abnormal decrease in market value over the event day and the following trading day. It also found that the effect is considerably amplified by the involvement of a CEO in the scandal, high news coverage and number of accusers, while companies’ self-disclosure of misconduct mitigates the effect.
- Proxy advisor ISS notes in its 2021 ESG Themes and Trends that, “even prior to the pandemic, the #MeToo movement exposed companies which did not have adequate protections in place to protect employees from sexual harassment and that complaints were often not handled properly.” Stakeholders are holding companies to account on their ‘social license to operate’, demanding greater alignment between management and boards and broader society.
- In the last 5 years, approximately 1 in 3 people have been sexually harassed at work, with some groups, such as younger workers, experiencing even higher levels of harassment.
- As senior members of the organisation, the Board & Leadership Team are less likely to be subject to sexual harassment. “Advantage blindness” can contribute to leaders perceiving that harassment is their workplace is not an issue because they are not on the receiving end.
- Only 18% of sexual harassment incidents are reported. Just because the matter is not being reported to HR, doesn’t mean that it is not happening. Most cultural issues don’t hide in plain sight; often it’s the issues that aren’t being spoken about that need attention.
- A lack of reporting can suggest that the culture is not deemed safe enough to speak up and report poor behaviour. To ensure people feel comfortable raising concerns, they need to see that leadership takes this issue seriously.
- Sexual harassment is a workplace hazard that has the potential to cause long-term physical and psychological injury to workers, as well as financial & reputational harm to the organisation.
Sexual harassment at work is everyone’s business
It’s no longer acceptable to assume that workplace culture is the sole remit of the HR team, or that because sexual harassment is not being reported that it does not exist. Sexual harassment at work is everyone’s business. The Board and Leadership Team have a duty to set the tone from the top and ensure that everyone feels safe and respected and work.
- Investor briefing: Sexual harassment as material risk
- Time for respect: One third of workers say they have experienced sexual harassment
- How will first Respect@Work recommendations affect women in workplaces?
- Research: How Sexual Harassment Affects a Company’s Public Image