In August 2016, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick released a report into gender for a major law enforcement agency in Australia, and concluded the organisation had a widespread behavioural and cultural problem with women in the workplace. The results of the survey indicate that sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive across the organisation that almost one in two female members have experienced sexual harassment (an incidence rate which is twice the all-industry national average rate) and 66 per cent of women had been subject to bullying in the last five years.


Its commissioner says the report identified unacceptable behaviours and practices that do not align with the values of the agency. “On some levels, this (internal) culture is a result of biases – both unconscious and conscious bias that simply do not allow our internal frameworks to succeed,” says Colvin. “Disturbed” by the level of bullying and sexual harassment reported within the organisation, Colvin says he is committed to ensuring that each of the recommendations made in the report is implemented.

Following one of the report’s many recommendations, a Safe Place and Investigations has been established to provide support to complainants and to investigate sexual harassment and abuse. The independent unit will employ a victim-focused approach.

The report also recommended an overhaul of the bullying complaints process – to escalate all serious bullying complaints or those against repeat offenders as category 3 misconduct complaints and to shorten investigation periods to no longer than six months. It also urged that all members “from recruits to the most senior leaders” participate in “expert, independent training” on respectful workplaces and for supervisors to be trained in “identifying and properly responding to sexualised work environments, sexual harassment and bullying and their impact on individuals and teams”.

Broderick notes in the report that strong and courageous leadership is essential to the success of any cultural change program. Leaders right across an organisation – particularly middle management – are critical to championing and implementing cultural change.

“As the ‘cultural ambassadors’ of the organisation – those that have the day to day interaction with members – what these leaders say and do, matters,” Broderick reports.

She highlights the importance of assisting middle management to better understand the need for, and champion, the positive benefits of a workforce supportive of women. This included ensuring that these leaders have the necessary skills and training in order to properly address inappropriate behaviours and attitudes; and actively support all members to access training and other opportunities as they arise.

In conclusion, the report’s message is clear – not only to AFP but to any organisation who is interested in creating and cultivating a safe and supportive workplace where all employees can thrive – with a call for leadership at all levels to consistently and visibly commit to a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying. Strong messages about unacceptable and inappropriate workplace behaviour must be communicated regularly and effectively. Offenders must also be held accountable for their inappropriate behaviour.


iHR Australia notes that there can be many adverse consequences if incidences like these are not handled appropriately. These consequences may include a breakdown in workplace relationships and productivity, risk of ongoing and potentially long-term physical or psychological harm to the victim, damage to your corporate brand or reputation or the risk of a costly and lengthy litigious claim.

Therefore, it is in the best interests of your organisation to ensure your leadership is effectively trained and ready to identify and handle such issues if and when they arise.

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