Last weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend an exceptional conference; the Australian Local Government Women’s Association Vic Conference 2019. The conference was hosted by the Macedon Ranges Shire Council and Justitia was one of the sponsors.  The theme of the conference was Leadership and Collaboration in government and community. I listened to inspiring speakers and met many leaders from Councils across Victoria who work tirelessly, and often without much recognition or thanks, within their local communities to make life better for all of us.

I wanted to share with you some of the key messages for employers which were presented by just two of the many outstanding speakers.

Sherene Hassan OAM, Education Director, Islamic Museum of Australia, spoke about diverse and inclusive workplaces. She spoke about some practical strategies that employers can adopt which include the following: having policies in place to support workplace diversity and mentors to ensure that employees are being supported; zero tolerance of any form of sexism or bigotry; initiating conversations with employees around their cultural/religious requirements; organising unconscious bias and cultural competence training; consulting with cultural/religious groups before decisions are made and holding cultural immersion days. Sherene explained that cultural immersion days could, for example, involve your organisation’s employees coming together once a year to visit a place such as the Islamic Museum of Australia, the Jewish Museum of Australia or the Chinese Museum.

Laura Vines, Senior Policy Advisor with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission spoke about gender equity and driving change in the workplace. She noted that in the last 12 months the Commission had seen a 20% increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints and a 31% increase in the number of complaints about sex discrimination in the workplace. Laura spoke about some of the factors which enable sexual harassment to thrive in the workplace including: male dominated workplaces, workplaces with rigid gender stereotypes,  workplaces that protect “high-value” employees and having leaders with unquestioned authority. Implementing robust policies and procedures and providing effective workplace training are two of the most obvious strategies, and most employers would do that as a minimum.  However, in discussing what employers can do to combat sexual harassment Laura also offered the following: ensure that leadership commits to changing workplace culture; respond appropriately when sexual harassment occurs in the workplace; be vigilant to backlash against complainants and support bystanders to act when they witness sexual harassment.

While much progress has been made in Australian workplaces to make them more inclusive, we must continue to work towards creating exceptional workplaces for all employees, including the most vulnerable. The above strategies remind us that there is always more that can be done.

Magda Marciniak is Partner at Justitia. To view Magda’s profile, click here.