Media Release

Reset urged on workplace responses to sexual harassment: Champions of Change Coalition

EMBARGOED16 November 2023

As organisations across the country adjust to new positive duty legislative obligations, the Champions of Change Coalition says current systems for responding to workplace sexual harassment need a radical adjustment to address chronic under-reporting of cases driven by a lack of employee trust in the processes for investigating and resolving cases.

While the first priority is to prevent and stop such behaviour, current systems and processes are failing almost half of workers who have experienced workplace sexual harassment and make a formal report, with their employers not providing adequate support or no change occurring and harassment continuing.[i]

In a new report released today, Building confidence and trust in workplace responses to sexual harassment, the Champions of Change Coalition outlines a transformative approach for managing cases when they arise, providing clear and practical guidance to help foster much needed improvements in organisational response systems.

The report recommends shifting from overly-legalistic, adversarial and harsh investigatory processes, to safe and fair response systems that prioritise wellbeing, healing and recovery for all involved, along with appropriate disciplinary action when required.

Some thirty per cent of employees have been sexually harassed in the workplace over the past 5 years, with the Australian Human Rights Commission‘s Fifth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in the workplace finding that less than twenty percent of workers made a formal report after experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. [i]

Insights from nineteen recent cultural reviews on workplace sexual harassment conducted over the past 3 years and Champions of Change Member experiences explain why current reporting and response systems are failing both individuals and organisations.

Many employees don’t report workplace sexual harassment because they:

  • do not wish to disclose sensitive personal information to their managers or colleagues who are perceived to be ill-equipped to respond
  • have seen organisations not taking sexual harassment reports seriously and/or people impacted have been subject to overly harsh investigatory processes
  • are unsure of how ‘serious’ an incident needs to be to warrant a report
  • fear that a confidential report won’t be kept confidential
  • believe the personal cost to career and reputation of reporting sexual harassment outweighs the benefit of doing so.

Building confidence and trust in workplace responses to sexual harassment draws advice from experts, including Full Stop Australia, and recommends organisations adopt person-centred, trauma-informed, safe and fair practices for better outcomes.

The requirement for organisations to understand how often, where and why harmful behaviours are occurring in their workplaces is an integral part of their positive duty to prevent sexual harassment and manage risks, according to Kristen Hilton, Independent Expert Consultant and Convenor, Champions of Change Coalition.

“Leaders need to develop more person-centred and trauma informed responses and alternative models to resolve matters to ensure the focus remains on the impacted person and the resolution minimises ongoing harm. This means organisations need adequate support systems in place to investigate the complaint safely, resolve the issue fairly and maintain the wellbeing of those impacted restoring relationships and enabling them to thrive,” said Kristen Hilton.

Increasing ways to report and choices on how to resolve a complaint will be essential in supporting more people to come forward, according to the report.

“Reporting an experience of sexual harassment ought not to be worse than the incident itself. But that is the reality for many people. Taking a person-centred approach puts the individual impacted at the centre of decision making and planning and gives that person choice about how the organisation should respond”, said Elizabeth Broderick AO, Founder, Champions of Change Coalition.

Navigating the delicate balance between respecting the wishes of the individual impacted, and meeting workplace obligations to protect the safety and rights of others is one of the challenges faced by organisations managing sexual harassment that is addressed in Building confidence and trust in workplace responses to sexual harassment.

“When sexual harassment occurs in a workplace, employment law and workplace safety obligations must be factored into the organisation’s response,” said Amanda Watt, Partner MinterEllison.

“In responding to sexual harassment in the workplace, it is essential that organisations care for both parties without compromise to process and this can only be achieved when person-centred, trauma-informed and safe and fair principles are congruent at every stage of the process,” said Amanda Watt.

“For the past four years, the Champions of Change approach to addressing sexual harassment in our workplaces has been to face into what isn’t working, share our experiences and collaborate with experts to redesign the system. Building confidence and trust in workplace responses to sexual harassment provides much needed practical guidance and challenges all organisations to address sexual harassment as an issue of human harm rather than a legal risk. The real legal, reputational and financial risk now lies in under-reporting of the issues and ineffective workplace responses to cases when they arise,” said James Fazzino, Convenor, Champions of Change Coalition.

About The Champions of Change Coalition

The Champions of Change Coalition includes CEOs, secretaries of government departments, non-executive directors and community leaders who believe gender equality is a major business, economic, societal, and human rights issue. The Champions of Change Coalition is a globally recognised, innovative strategy for achieving gender equality, advancing more and diverse women in leadership and building respectful and inclusive workplaces. Established in 2010 by Elizabeth Broderick AO, our mission is to achieve inclusive gender equality and a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership.

[i] Australian Human Rights Commission (2022), Time for Respect: Fifth National Survey on Workplace Sexual Harassment. At:

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