Ahead of AHRI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conference, HRM speaks with political journalist Annabelle Crabb about creating work environments that guarantee women safety and equal opportunity.
Earlier this year, millions of Australians rallied around their team of choice in support of the Women’s World Cup.
The Matildas were a uniting force in our community, with even the non-sports fans among us glued to our TV screens with bated breath. Their semi-final game against England broke ratings records, amassing 11.15 million viewers over the course of the 90-minute game.
The significance of this can’t be understated. For the first time, women’s sport – which, historically, has been underfunded and pushed into the shadows – was in the spotlight for all the right reasons. But despite the outpour of positivity and enthusiasm, the narrative ended on a negative note.
Instead of the media continuing conversations about elevating women’s sports and the outstanding talent displayed on the field, we were left with headlines such as: ‘How an unwanted kiss in Sydney sparked a revolution in Spanish football’ and ‘Non-consensual soccer kiss controversy continues.’
These are scenarios that, unfortunately, feel all too familiar. By now, many people have become desensitised to the slew of negative statistics around women at work: that they are paid less, less likely to be promoted and more likely to experience sexual harassment in their personal and professional lives.
Speaking about the unwanted kiss in an article for ABC News, political journalist Annabel Crabb wrote that women not only have to experience sexual harassment in the workplace, be that a soccer field or a board room, but also have to deal with often unsupportive and sometimes retraumatising processes in the wake of incidents like this.
“If you don’t report it, you feel guilty for not standing up for yourself, or for failing to protect other women. If you do, you run the risk of being slimed as a raging man-hater and troublemaker,” Crabb wrote.
So what measures need to be put in place to create safer workplaces for women?
Creating safer workplaces
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recently released guidelines on employers’ new positive duty to eliminate sexual harassment in workplaces.
This positive duty has been in effect since December 2022, but these new guidelines have been released ahead of the AHRC gaining new enforcement and investigative powers, announced as part of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill, from 12 December this year.
Essentially, this means the AHRC will have the power to investigate non-compliance with the guidelines, and if organisations are caught out, they will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by a court or tribunal.
Ahead of this, it’s important that HR professionals and workplace leaders understand their obligations under the new guidelines, including:
- An onus on senior leaders to understand the guidelines and what constitutes unlawful behaviour.
- The establishment of appropriate avenues to report sexual harassment that minimise harm to victims.
- The collection of data around any unlawful behaviour that takes place.
- New responsibilities for employers and PCBUs to provide workers who experience or witness unlawful behaviour in workplaces with appropriate support. That support should be accessible and readily available, whether or not the conduct has been reported.
Speaking to HRM, Crabb says, “Discretion and empowerment for the person affected is the most important thing.”
Referring back to the Spanish soccer captain’s kiss, she says, “You’ll notice that that whole situation was very quickly taken out of Jenni Hermoso’s [the Spanish soccer player’s] hands. First she was pressured to laugh it off, and then she was pressured to speak up.
“It should always be about the shortest and healthiest route for the woman to get back to a position of feeling confident and respected at her workplace… It’s about feeling like you’ve been respected,” says Crabb, who is an upcoming speaker at AHRI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference.
Creating fairer workplaces
As well as trying to create safer workplaces for women, many employers are also engaging in efforts to make their work environments fairer.
Ahead of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency publishing the gender pay gaps of all organisations with over 100 employees in 2024, many organisations are likely considering conducting a pay analysis to do their part to bridge Australia’s 13 per cent pay gap.
On top of this, many employers are on track to increase the number of women hired and promoted. Accenture, for example, is aiming to have a gender-balanced workforce by 2025, and construction company Laing O’Rourke has recently introduced a sponsorship program to get more women into leadership.
“Diverse groups of people make better decisions. There’s no doubt about that any more.” – Annabelle Crabb
However, some organisations can face resistance when they launch programs like this. For example, mentions of the concept of meritocracy often follow any suggestion of the introduction of gender quotas – or quotas for any diversity group, for that matter.
“I often hear the concept of merit-based appointment chucked around as an argument against targets or quotas. And it sounds great. But often the actual measure of merit is very vague,” says Crabb.
“Like in politics, where there really aren’t any measurable KPIs to speak of. What merit often quietly means, in this situation, is ‘Someone who looks like the guy who did the job before.'”
The truth is, we’ve embraced quotas in other respects for a long time. She refers to the political arena again to illustrate this.
“There are really clear formalised quotas. When parties preselect candidates, there has to be x number of safe seats for the Right, x amount for the Left, x amount of ministerial positions for the National Party, you name it. It’s only when quotas for women get raised that people start to get all itchy.”
The problem with the merit argument, says Crabb in the ABC article, is that there’s a “double fiction” at play.
“First, [there’s the idea] that men have always gained their successes on merit, and second, that merit in women will be recognised and rewarded the same way as it is in genuinely talented men,” writes Crabb.
Whether gender quotas are the solution remains up for debate. However, it does raise an important conversation about the difference between equality and equity. As demonstrated by the oft-cited image below, simply giving everyone the same resources and opportunities (equality) does not always level the playing field.
In order to provide equity, where everyone has access to the same opportunities, individuals or groups of people often need certain accommodations made.
In a previous article for HRMOnline, former Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes says he’s made a “complete shift” on the use of quotas, which he prefers to call ‘targets’.
“I’ve come to the conclusion, after working in this space for 20 or 30 years, that targets are the only thing that work,” he said.
“The only way that I’ve seen [disability employment] move is by the introduction of targets. As any business [leader] knows, what you don’t count doesn’t count. And by introducing [diversity] targets, in the same way a car company has production targets or that a bank has client acquisition targets, you then work out ways to deliver on those targets.”
In this same article, Sam Turner, Chief People Officer at Allens, said a lot of underrepresented people want to get appointed and promoted based on their own efforts.
“But that assumes we start on a level playing field, and we really don’t. From my perspective, the only time [targets] hinder is when we don’t equip leaders, managers and hiring managers with the right tools and coaching to achieve those targets.
“It’s just as much about how you implement the target as having the target in the first place. No one ever gets cast aside. That’s not what targets are about. It’s always about the right person for the job. It’s just about removing some of the hurdles and barriers,” said Turner.
In their shoes
Of course, fixing what’s broken in a company’s culture shouldn’t sit with HR alone, but Crabb says it’s important to remember the influence HR yields and the change they can encourage.
“HR professionals have such a key role in thinking laterally about how people’s skills can best be put to use, by eliminating barriers that make it hard for them to work in an existing system or set of assumptions.
“It’s why, too, the best leaders I see these days are the ones who are confident enough in their own skin to understand where their blind spots are and seek advice and ask questions of the people who have different life experiences. Diverse groups of people make better decisions. There’s no doubt about that any more.”