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Business deadline looms to proactively prevent sexual harassment

November 24, 2023 / Our Watch media team

Group of people having a casual business meeting, focus is on a young woman in glasses.

Employers and violence prevention experts are coming together in Adelaide today ahead of the deadline for a new law that requires employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.  

More than 40% of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the past five years. But it is preventable. 

From 12 December 2023, new legal obligations will require all workplaces to take proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment at work, including behaviour that creates a hostile work environment for women. 

The Best Practice Leadership in Proactive Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment event, which is focused on supporting employers, is being hosted by the University of South Australia and Our Watch. It will hear from leaders in the prevention of violence against women and the national Sex Discrimination Commissioner.  

Patty Kinnersly, CEO of the national violence prevention organisation Our Watch, said the new legal obligations for employers were designed to create safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces. 

“Sexual harassment is the most common form of violence against women in workplaces, with two in five women in Australia having experienced harassment at work in the past five years. Yet just 18 per cent of people have felt safe enough to report it,” Ms Kinnersly said.  

“It has a significant impact, not just on victims, but also on productivity, organisational culture and employee wellbeing. 

“But sexual harassment can be prevented, and change is possible.  

“For women to be safe they must be equal. Sexual harassment is more likely to occur where gender inequality is normalised. 

“Equal and safe workplaces benefit everyone, and employers have an opportunity to take a whole-of-organisation approach to embedding gender equality and fostering a culture of respect.” 

Ms Kinnersly said inequality costs the economy $128 billion a year 

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Anna Cody is the keynote speaker.  

“Gender equality and respect are at the core of eliminating sexual harassment and other unlawful, systemically insidious behaviours from the workplace,” Dr Cody said. 

“The incoming, ground-breaking inclusion of a positive duty is a systemic response to an ongoing problem.  It requires organisations and businesses to take reasonable steps to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. This is far more effective than any reactive approach.”  

Kornar Winmil Yunti CEO Craig Rigney will join a panel of business and academic leaders to discuss engaging men to prevent workplace sexual harassment.  

Also speaking will be Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Justine Elliot, highlighting the shared commitment across all sectors to curb sexual harassment and violence, and create safer and more inclusive workplaces. 

This initiative stems from discussions of a network of allies, convened in 2022 by Professor Michelle Tuckey from the Centre of Workplace Excellence at UniSA, who are driven to be part of a step-change in how we prevent sexual harassment at work by cultivating organisations’ resistant to harassment.  

The event is part of Our Watch’s Engaging Employers to Prevent Sexual Harassment program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. 

Media contact

Please contact media@ourwatch.org.au or 0448 844 930. 

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline: 

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”
To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit Media Making Change. 

About Our Watch

Our Watch is a national leader in Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the practices, norms, and structures that lead to violence against women and children.