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

Culture is the ‘way things are done around here’. It encompasses the dominant attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, practices and priorities in a workplace.

Studies show a culture of respect and safety is a precondition for eliminating sexual harassment. Workplaces that are diverse and inclusive, gender-balanced and have cultures of respect, integrity and trust are the most effective at preventing and responding to sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.

Culture of Respect

In an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald, former sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, was quoted as saying the workplaces she knows that manage sexual harassment well are the ones that have a strong sense of respect. “A written policy is not the thing that protects, it’s that thing in the middle: the culture.”[1] A culture of respect protects against workplace misconduct by promoting positive workplace interactions. All workers value other team members as equal human beings and are considerate of their psychological well-being.

Culture of Safety

Many organisations understand the importance of training staff on what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and the processes for reporting incidences of workplace misconduct, but few understand that training may be ineffective if it is delivered in a cultural context where sexual harassment is not seen to be taken seriously. Unless victims perceive that the cultural context is responsive to sexual harassment and supports and protects victims, increasing awareness of organisational policies and processes does not increase the likelihood that victims will report an incident of sexual harassment or access support services.

Solutions for fostering respectful and safe workplaces

Fostering a culture of safety and respect necessitates a multi-pronged approach. Generally, it requires a commitment to positive cultural norms, values and behaviours, an investment in the systems, policies and processes that support these, and employee engagement. Focus areas include:

  • explicit commitment to the values of respect and safety which are included in a set of core organisational values
  • a well-defined code of conduct that clearly communicates acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and consequences of inappropriate behaviours
  • visibly demonstrating a zero-tolerance approach to workplace misconduct
  • implementing clear policies and processes for reporting inappropriate conduct
  • best-practice anti-bullying and harassment training with an emphasis on demonstrating the core values of respect and safety in action and clarifying behaviours that are unacceptable and inconsistent with organisational values (e.g., sexualised banter and jokes), and including upstander/bystander training
  • regular leader-led discussions on behavioural expectations, the demonstration of core values in action, sexual harassment and gender equality
  • leadership modelling and rewarding of speaking up regarding inappropriate conduct
  • running communications campaigns and training on respect at work, and how to speak up about inappropriate behaviour and the importance of doing so
  • expressly prohibiting victimisation
  • implementing human-centred reporting and investigation processes
  • providing transparency on reported incidences of misconduct and the outcome of investigations
  • genuinely consulting with staff regularly on organisational culture, staff experiences of misconduct, and the effectiveness of control measures
  • commitment to gender balance and representation of women in positions of power
  • commitment to diversity and inclusion more broadly

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.

Additional Resources: