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Creating a safer workplace for all, for longer


“Everyone should be able to work without having unwelcome offensive sexual conduct interfering with their ability to do the job.” – Kate Jenkins


Kate Jenkins and Dr Kay Patterson

Pic: Kate Jenkins (L) and Dr Kay Patterson


Sadly, discrimination in the workplace is still a prevalent issue in Australia today. Discrimination can come in all shapes and sizes and can be both direct and indirect.


At ANZ, we work hard to ensure everyone feels safe at work. We have been led by our purpose and values to create an inclusive culture and continue to build on this. However, we know there’s always room for improvement.


I recently spoke with both the Australian Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to learn more about how their work can influence policy and outcomes in Australian businesses and what we can all do to prevent discrimination.


For Kate, the main focus of her role over the past few years has been producing the landmark Respect@Work Report which was launched in 2020 with 55 recommendations, relating to recognising the prevalence and harm caused by sexual harassment in the workplace. After many years of planning and research, this report coincided with the increasing visibility of the global #MeToo movement.


Reading the report, I believe the scrutiny on both governments and workplaces is entirely justified and all organisations must commit to making meaningful cultural change to ensure a safe working environment for all.


Dr Patterson has also released a report looking into ageism or age discrimination more broadly titled “What’s age got to do with it?”.


The research found 90 per cent of participants believe ageism exists and 63 per cent said they'd personally experienced ageism in the last five years.


Respondents from every age group felt they'd been exposed to some form of discrimination - being told they were too young or too old for a job, or being told to reconsider a job because ‘you’ll be away from home frequently and you have a young family’.

Addressing the issue


For both age and sex-based discrimination, while some people may be making comments or choices unconsciously, we must acknowledge there is a very real and very conscious layer of behaviour that must be addressed.


Kate says a key problem many people run into when recognising behaviours of sexual harassment or discrimination is a misunderstanding of what it actually means.


“People [don’t] understand very clearly what sexual harassment is. Sexual harassment is basically unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature where it’s reasonable the person receiving the conduct would be offended, humiliated or intimidated. To make it super simple, it’s unwelcome offensive sexual conduct at work,” she explains.


“Everyone should be able to work without having unwelcome offensive sexual conduct interfering with their ability to do their job.”

The 2018 Respect@Work survey showed one-in-three Australian workers had experienced sexual harassment in the last five years. The most common types of behaviour were sexually suggestive comments or jokes and intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance. This comes at a cost both emotionally and fiscally.


According to a Deloitte Access Economics Review in 2018, the cost of workplace sexual harassment in Australia was $A3.8 billion with a majority of that worn by employers.


Bridging the divide


In my conversation with Dr Patterson, I asked how employers can be more open minded and inclusive in their hiring practices given more and more people are working beyond the “traditional” age of retirement as improved healthcare meant people were living longer and in turn, working longer.


“In 1975 there were just 122 centenarians in Australia. Now, there are about 6,000. By 2060, there will be more than 40,000 centenarians. It's a staggering number,” she says.


“We start talking to people about their retirement plans far too late,” she says. “We need to be talking to people in their 40s and 50s about how much they need to pay off their house? How much longer will you need to work if your spouse is older than you? All those sorts of questions need to be discussed early so people start thinking and planning.”


In terms of seeking employment, Dr Patterson says people should consider updating skills such as in technology. She also recommends employers consider better flexibility for all roles.


“There is a tendency [in flexible working] to focus on people of certain ages or circumstances,” she says. “Matching mums together for a job share role, for example.”


“However, if you job share an older person with a younger person that can be an opportunity for cross mentoring because their needs are different. Sometimes you get a better job-sharing experience by thinking outside the box and being flexible.”


Speaking up


For both age and sex-based discrimination in the workplace, one of the key ways to stop a behaviour in its tracks is to foster a strong speak up culture – something we are proud to have at ANZ.


We want our employees to use their voice to maintain integrity in the organisation but also because they care about their colleagues and want to stand up for what is right.


Kate says this culture is extremely important as it helps lighten the burden of a victim having to be the one to speak up or make a formal complaint. But companies and governments need to take complaints seriously when they occur.


“The last survey showed only 17 per cent of people who’d been sexually harassed had complained. Sadly, 43 per cent said they suffered a negative consequence as a result of complaining, about half said they were unhappy with the outcome and a significant number said nothing happened as a result,” she says.


If we can all work together to build stronger policies, provide more preventative training and encourage everyone to say something if they feel it isn’t right then we will be providing a better working environment for everyone.


Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ


This article was adapted from two conversations between Shayne Elliott, Dr Kay Patterson and Kate Jenkins. It has been edited for brevity.


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