Politician tells women to ignore sexual discrimination at work: Three ways to make sure your business doesn’t

A senior female politician has told women facing sexual discrimination in the workplace to ignore it and it will “just disappear”, we’ve highlighted three ways you can ensure your business doesn’t disregard discrimination.

South Australian Liberal Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond offered her advice on how to deal with sex discrimination in the workplace during a “Women in Leadership” function in Adelaide attended by 150 women.

At the Committee for Economic Development of Australia “Women in Leadership” event, 39-year-old Sophia MacRae told Redmond “there is some inequality there” in her role at the Norwood Council and through her work with a lobby group, the Bicycle Institute.

“What would be your advice for a younger woman dealing with that, when it’s not just the fact that your older colleagues have more experience, but you can sense that there is a little bit of discrimination involved as well?” she said.

Redmond said it was easiest to ignore the discrimination.

“I think it is easier a lot of the time to just try to ignore the discrimination and get on with being the best councillor you can be, or the best whatever it is, and ask intelligent questions and make gentle suggestions, and I think you’ll find the discrimination will just disappear.”

Redmond said, in her own experience, she had avoided legal remedies.

“I don’t think there’s any much point in confrontation,” she said.

“There were laws at that time about discrimination, but I took the view that I was going to come out the loser if I tried to use those laws against the behemoth of this organisation and someone in a very senior position. So I left and got another job.”

SmartCompany contacted Redmond for comment, but she did not respond prior to publication.

Helen Conway, Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency told SmartCompany “it is important to address unacceptable behaviours in the workplace because of the ramifications on individuals and workplace productivity.”

“Sometimes people aren’t aware that their behaviour is not acceptable so it is important to point this out to them when the behaviour occurs. Pushing it under the carpet doesn’t help anyone in the long run.”

Wendy Simpson, chairman of women’s business organisation Springboard Australia, also told SmartCompany she did not agree with Redmond’s advice to keep silent.

“Everyone silently saying that [sexual discrimination] will go away is not helpful,” says Simpson.

“There is a lot more of it happening than people realise and being silent does not help a good boss and good organisation actually want to know what is holding people back.

“You can’t change things if no one tells you what is going on.”

We asked some experts what systems your business should have in place so women feel they can report sexual discrimination rather than ignore it:

1. Mentor system

Establishing a mentor system where younger women in the workplace have a more senior woman to talk to can help address sexual discrimination, according to Simpson.

“I am a little concerned that a lot of young women today don’t even see the discrimination that is impacting them,” says Simpson.

“It is a bit like the boiling frog syndrome, it happens so subtly and so quietly that unless you have someone that you are talking to at your workplace it is hard to address.

“What young women need to do is find someone older and wiser and tell them about things that are happening in their workplace.”

2. Hotline

Following sexual harassment claims against former chief executive Mark McInnes, retailer David Jones set up an anonymous hotline for staff to report instances of sexual harassment.

A hotline to report sexual discrimination is an option for larger businesses although its application is limited for smaller businesses.

3. Policy

Businesses need to have a policy in place on sexual discrimination, according to Rosemary O’Connor, the senior manager of the enterprise group at RMIT and Springboard Enterprises board member.

“Ignoring sex discrimination will not make it go away as if by magic,” O’Connor says.

“The ostrich approach just doesn’t work. It is really important that businesses – large, medium and small – have robust policies and procedures regarding sex discrimination.

“Policies that acknowledge that it happens and set out processes for addressing it appropriately in the workplace are essential.”

This article first appeared on SmartCompany.


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