This isn’t a perfect, complete list, but we hope  these suggested responses help you with your preparation. Your responses should be tailored to the organisation and individuals involved, and capture your voice. This is just a starting off point.

Our staff engagement scores are terrific and there is no indication of a sexual harassment problem here.

I am also very proud of our staff engagement scores which measure many aspects of working at our organisation. However, I don’t believe we specifically ask whether our people have experienced sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work, or witnessed it as a bystander. 

The recent nationwide data from the Human Rights Commission shows that 72% of Australians over 15 have experienced sexual harassment at work in the five years prior to 2018. Of this group, only 17% made a formal complaint.

This isn’t a perfect, complete list, but we hope  these suggested responses help you with your preparation. Your responses should be tailored to the organisation and individuals involved, and capture your voice. This is just a starting point.

Our staff engagement scores are terrific and there is no indication of a sexual harassment problem here.

I am also very proud of our staff engagement scores which measure many aspects of working at our organisation. However, I don’t believe we specifically ask whether our people have experienced sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work, or witnessed it as a bystander. 

Nationwide data from the Human Rights Commission shows that one in three people (33%) said they experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years

Just as we do with other physical and psychological risks, as leaders we must take responsibility for developing workplace cultures that prioritise safety, respect and inclusion for all. 

Sexual harassment is a workplace hazard that has the potential to cause long-term physical and psychological injury to individuals, as well as financial harm to our business. It should be treated no differently to any other workplace hazard.

We have a bullying and harassment policy, so that should be enough.

That is a good start, but the evidence shows this alone is not sufficient. We should be proactively identifying risk factors for sexual harassment and taking steps to mitigate them, like we do for all safety hazards. For example, the risks could include operating in a remote work environment (i.e. a lack of visibility over behaviours), having a male-dominated workforce, high levels of interaction with customers/patients/clients, long work hours or extensive travel, among other things.

We also need data to understand what sort of harassment is taking place and where. Research shows that sexual harassment is significantly underreported, so we need to ask the questions directly and collect our own data to identify trends and mitigate risks.

A policy is a great and necessary first step, but it can’t be where we stop. We care deeply about our people and their safety and wellbeing, so we need to demonstrate this.

We have a support hotline which is well publicised and used, but we don’t get many calls about sexual harassment, so it mustn’t be an issue here.

The strong evidence in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s [email protected] report shows that sexual harassment is massively underreported which means the extent of the problem is not fully understood. It can be overt or insidious. 

In fact, low reporting could suggest our culture isn’t deemed safe enough to speak out and report toxic behaviour. We can’t ignore the expert evidence nor the risks that this behaviour represents to the business and health and wellbeing of our people.

We need to approach this issue with the same mindset, processes and tone from the top that we bring to other workplace injuries and serious misconduct.

The men here think very highly of women and respect them. We can’t make them scared to have a joke or give a woman a compliment. 

Having an appropriate joke and sexually harassing someone are vastly different things and if our employees don’t know the difference, we have a bigger problem.

We need to be proactive in eradicating disrespectful behaviours of all forms. That means innuendo, suggestive comments, inappropriate physical contact or jokes that sexualise others are not okay.

Zero tolerance means there will be action and consequences that are appropriate and proportionate considering the offender’s behaviour and the impact of their actions. 

It does not mean we will respond in the same way to every incident, and we need to be clear on this, otherwise it will prevent people from coming forward. This is more than just a women’s issue. It is about all of our people feeling safe and respected at work and having a voice to speak.

A regular organisation-wide message, reinforced by regular reporting and a clear tone from the top, should be welcomed by all those in the organisation who respect their colleagues. 

I have been in this industry for decades and I have never seen sexual harassment, so it’s not an issue here.

Sexual harassment is an issue across our entire society. Multiple reports outline just how prevalent it is.

A number of companies have been undertaking gender safety audits which are showing that the extent of sexual harassment, together with other forms of discriminatory behaviours, have been highly underreported. This underreporting often leads business leaders and board members to believe there are no issues, but often it’s happening right under their noses.

Results from cross-sectional gender and cultural safety audit auditcan be extremely surprising – and often shocking. Importantly, they enable targeted initiatives to be deployed to address workplace safety. For instance, it might demonstrate that the culturally diverse women in your organisation are more likely to experience sexual harassment or discrimination.

Let’s do the work, undertake a safety risk assessment, start to collate important data and make a commitment to ongoing reporting. This is the only way we can get a clear view of the realities of sexual harassment in our organisation.

Sexual harassment complaints are within the remit of our HR team. If there is a big issue they will escalate it to us.

Let’s include the HR team in this work and have them report back, but this doesn’t sit on HR’s shoulders alone.

Each of us has a responsibility to address this issue. We can’t delegate this important work to someone else. And as leaders we need to live our commitment to building a respectful, harassment-free workplace everyday.

This was an issue in the past in our industry, but we’ve come so far and things have changed. Do we really want to bring this up again?

It’s perfectly fine to look back on how far we’ve come – in fact, that’s a great way to gather momentum, but we are by no means there yet. If we were, we wouldn’t be seeing such alarming rates of sexual harassment still occurring in the workplace today.

We need to learn from past mistakes and celebrate progression, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to commit to leading in terms of cultural change and advancing gender equality. To do this, we must demonstrate and require accountability, ongoing focus, and empathetic and compassionate leadership, just like we do with other safety issues.

We need to set the tone and lead from the top. With this in mind, here is an example of some things we should never say or accept from others:

  • A bullying and harassment policy should be enough to deal with sexual harassment.
  • We have low report rates of sexual harassment, so it’s not a problem at this organisation.
  • We have a reporting hotline which is well publicised, but we don’t get many calls about sexual harassment, so it’s not an issue here.
  • I have been in this industry for decades and I have never seen it, so it mustn’t be happening.
  • That’s the remit of our HR team. If there was ever a big issue, they would escalate it to us.
  • Our staff engagement scores are terrific and there is no indication of there being a sexual harassment problem here. That means we’re doing enough.


Most cultural issues aren’t hiding in plain sight. Often it’s the things that aren’t being talked about that we need to be concerned about. Research tells us that sexual harassment is common and that it’s significantly under reported. We need to be proactive to prevent sexual harassment, and not wait for a complaint before we act.

We need to ensure our people feel safe to come forward and report instances of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. The only way they’ll do this is if they can see that leadership takes this issue seriously.

Can I suggest we create a board paper for the next meeting to outline how we plan to do this?

We take the health and wellbeing of our people very seriously. We work hard to improve our safety outcomes and reduce injuries, and overall we do a good job preventing physical harm to our people.

As we have seen in many other organisations, sexual harassment is more prevalent than a lot of people think. This represents a real risk to keeping people safe in the workplace, and to our people’s wellbeing and productivity.

It can also cause significant damage to our reputation, our brand as an employer of choice, lost business, and to our corporate standing.

We need to make it crystal clear to everyone in the organisation that we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Our objective is to prevent it. We need to ensure all our systems, processes and practices enforce this commitment.

We need to treat sexual harassment risks as we would any other physical or psychological risk in the workplace. We already have existing systems and processes in place for identifying and mitigating workplace health and safety risks and hazards, and for defining our desired culture.

We need to embed these into our sexual harassment response frameworks, reporting practices and organisational culture so sexual harassment is eradicated.

We can’t afford to wait on this; we need to act urgently.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other conduct of a sexual nature. It’s not only a human rights issue, which is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, but also a workplace health and safety (WHS) risk which can cause significant psychological, physical, reputational and financial harm.

Existing systems and processes for managing WHS risks and hazards should be used to eliminate the risks and control the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.

Board members and senior executives have a duty to address this. Everyone deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. Respect is everyone’s business.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other conduct of a sexual nature. It’s not only a human rights issue, which is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act, but also a workplace health and safety (WHS) risk which can cause significant psychological, physical, reputational and financial harm.

Existing systems and processes for managing WHS risks and hazards should be used to eliminate the risks and control the likelihood of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.

Board members and senior executives have a duty to address this. Everyone deserves to work in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment. Respect is everyone’s business.