According to Kate Jenkins, Victorian Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Australia's current complaints-driven system will not resolve systemic issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Ms Jenkins was speaking at a recent Lander & Rogers client briefing where she and fellow panellists, Luke Cornelius - Assistant Commissioner, Victoria Police, and Lander & Rogers Partner Patrizia Mercuri, discussed the Independent Review into sexual harassment and discrimination within Victoria Police, which was delivered by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission last December.

The panel discussed the critical findings of the Review, and also looked at the leadership required to effect and commit to transformational, organisation-wide change.

Speaking about where Australia is currently at in terms of managing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, Ms Jenkins said, "The focus on investigation and discipline is not working. A complaints-driven system will never solve this problem. It's relying on the bravery of an individual to enforce the laws. Instead the system harms the victims and often fails to deliver justice to the perpetrator.”

Mr Cornelius agreed saying that in the experience of Victoria Police, "Focusing on 'bad apples' actually doesn't work; yes we need to continue to do that, but in terms of that activity itself registering in the minds of everyone else in the organisation, it just doesn't cut through."

Mr Cornelius said that Australia needed to move to a system where we, "Shift from being complaint-driven and investigation-led to being victim-centric and front-ending the support and interventions for the victims and having the organisation assume the role of driving the accountability with perpetrators in workplaces."

Discrimination Partner Patrizia Mercuri said that one of the challenges for organisations is about how to create a culture which supports the making of a complaint. "At the heart of this is cultural change," she said. "People need to feel comfortable to raise their concerns, and organisations need to be able to demonstrate that their senior leadership takes these complaints seriously. The workplace culture also needs to encourage bystanders who witness incidents of sexual harassment or discrimination to feel safe in raising this in an appropriate way."

Mr Cornelius added that a key factor for Victoria Police in helping to create organisational change was having a very highly committed executive team which was prepared to spend time listening and learning, rather than just jumping straight into treating the symptoms. "The piece around listening, learning and reflection is very important before you engage with the challenge of driving change," he said.

"I think the key is organisations addressing issues of diversity and inclusion, with the focus being on inclusion rather than simply accommodation," said Ms Mercuri, "And that will ultimately deliver more safe and productive workplaces."

During the event, Lander & Rogers conducted a poll of attendees on the effectiveness of current approaches to dealing with workplace sexual harassment. Responding to the question "How effective do you think your current processes are for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace?", 8% of attendees indicated "excellent", 50% said they were "good", 34% thought they were "fair".

Ms Mercuri said this suggested that although organisations are very aware of the need to manage and deal with issues of sexual harassment, there is still more to be done. "I think it's important to look at your organisation and whether there is a problem.

"Obviously not every organisation needs to go to the extent that Victoria Police has in this case, but certainly it might be useful to review what is actually going on within a workplace."

From L-R: Patrizia Mercuri, Luke  Cornelius, Kate Jenkins, Peggy O'Neal

Video | Managing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination

In this 5 minute video, Discrimination Law Partner Patrizia Mercuri discusses where Australia is currently at in relation to managing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, looks at some of the key challenges that organisations face and offers tips for employers on creating a safe work environment. > VIEW VIDEO