Male Champions of Change release new guidance on sexual harassment. Now we need a commitment to change

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All 260 members of the Male Champions of Change have signed a new guidance report calling for sexual harassment to be treated as a workplace health and safety issue and pushing to scale back non-disclosure agreements, among other recommendations.

That’s according to a report published by The Australian Financial Review on Friday, which has seen an exclusive copy of the guidance set to be released in mid-September.

The AFR reports that Male Champions of Change has also called for sexual harassment to be listed in annual reports, and for CEOs to be financially penalised if cases are not quickly resolved.

It recommends significantly reducing the use of non-disclosure agreements to be used at the request of the victim only, as well as for strategies that encourage staff to speak up, listening to and respecting employees who have experienced harassment, and promoting more gender equality.

Some solid ideas.

But while all 260 members of the Male Champions of Change have signed this report, they are not bound to implement these changes within their own organisations.

We need them to do so regardless.

Guidance is an email with a PDF attachment that gets archived. A commitment to action — and to being publicly scrutinised in the process — is what ultimately drives change.

As we’ve seen with the shocking allegations of sexual harassment occurring at AMP, existing guidance doesn’t solve the issue. A desire for better corporate culture doesn’t solve the problem. Nor does a commitment to gender equality.

Even docking an individual’s pay doesn’t solve the problem.

Don’t forget, AMP Capital’s now-former-CEO Boe Pahari was penalised an eye-watering $500,000 due to the sexual harassment case the company settled, and was then promoted anyway.

The thing that does work appears to be transparency, consistent pressure, and making staff, shareholders and significant investors aware of what’s going on.

In AMP’s case, this occurred largely thanks to the media, with initial reporting from the Australian Financial Review and uproar within the business that ensured it remained top of mind.

But knowing the absolute disgusting extent of the sexual harassment came thanks to the work of survivors — including Julia Szlakowski who courageously shared her story with Nine papers, and another former AMP employee who also courageously approached a senator with what she experienced.

On the latter, it took parliamentary privilege to get her story heard.

We’ve seen how NDAs have silenced women eternally, usually in a bid to protect the reputation of the perpetrator who can go on to promotions and then to more senior appointments in other organisations.

Ending this culture of NDAs needs to happen immediately.

Again, we need more than guidance in doing so, we need a commitment.

The guidance, the recommendations, the desire to “end it” and to change corporate Australia — and then the hope that these things will also help women who don’t work in corporate Australia — is not and has not been enough.

The fact is that women will go to work today and experience sexual harassment.

And very few will ever be in a position to even make a complaint, let alone get that complaint seriously dealt with in a way that won’t destroy their career.

Pushing companies to get transparent on the sexual harassment that is occurring would be an excellent step in the right direction.

We need all 260 individuals who signed this report to commit to implementing the recommendations within their own organisations, immediately.

When this MCC report is officially released in mid-September, let’s hope we also see firm commitments from members to implement their own recommendations.

That is the kind of change from male champions that would really shift the status quo, and help drive workplace gender equality.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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