The information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.

Strong leadership at all levels in an organisation is essential for creating safe and respectful workplaces and preventing sexual harassment. Leaders are critical in setting the organisation’s framework for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and role-modelling a diverse, inclusive, and safe culture.

Commitment to Gender Equality

First and foremost, leaders must have a strong understanding that gender inequality causes and enables sexual harassment in the workplace and prioritise gender equality. They can do this through recruitment, setting gender equity goals, and implementing programs, practices and policies promoting gender diversity and inclusion. Champions of Change Coalition and Chief Executive Women have developed the Leadership Shadow[1] model to provide leaders with a useful framework for demonstrating clear and visible leadership on gender equality. The four elements that make up the Leadership Shadow are: what we say, how we act, what we prioritise, and what we measure. Leaders are encouraged to use the framework to prepare individualised action plans for demonstrating leadership on gender equality.

Visible Leadership on Respect and Safety

Leaders can actively and visibly demonstrate their commitment to promoting a respectful, safe, and inclusive workplace culture by:

  • leading discussions on eliminating sexual harassment
  • encouraging speaking up
  • demonstrating zero tolerance for sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct
  • ensuring policies and processes for preventing sexual harassment and responding effectively to complaints are established, are accessible to all staff, and are regularly evaluated, and
  • modelling respectful interactions and ethical behaviour at all times.

Respect@Work has adapted the Leadership Shadow[2] to provide leaders with a useful framework for demonstrating clear and visible leadership in addressing sexual harassment.

Capability and Accountability

Employers should implement processes and practices that support desired leadership characteristics including:

  • recruitment processes and criteria that align with gender equity and organisational culture goals
  • leader training and education on culture, gender equity and respect at work
  • clear leader expectations, accountabilities and responsibilities on gender equity, inclusion and respect, and
  • remuneration and reward schemes that recognise leaders who foster respectful behaviour and who act to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment.


Many employers tolerate inappropriate or unlawful behaviour by leaders because of assumptions about their value to the organisation. Employment contracts and codes of conduct should be explicit about expectations, and leaders should be held to the same (or higher) standards as other workforce members. A person’s position or rank in an organisation shouldn’t have any influence on an investigation into workplace misconduct and leaders need to be held to account for breaching workplace policies.

Culture Plus Consulting can support you in meeting your positive duty through workplace culture reviews, risk assessment, learning and development, and advice. Email for details.