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    Standing up against sexism

    We have a problem.

    As I said to our more than 4,000 employees this week, this is a very important national conversation and it is clear that the community want action. The community wants lasting change.

    No workplace is immune from this problem. Which is why we must have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence, sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. And there must be consequences for perpetrators.

    At the heart of the issue is sexism – systemic and cultural sexism.

    As men we must call it out. To call out sexist jokes, stereotyping and biases that traditionally went unaddressed and do more about the structural issues like the gender pay gap, female representation in management, power imbalances and equal parental leave for men and women so that caring duties aren’t a women’s issue alone.

    The voices of women impacted by sexual harassment and violence matter – we must make sure that their voices are heard and ensure that it is safe for them to share their stories.

    Sharing their lived experience helps generate awareness and encourage societal change. It can help others impacted by harassment and sexual assault to better understand their experience or urge them to reach out for help or report an incident.

    If you see a woman being disrespected call it out immediately. Make it clear that it’s not okay – not at home, not in the workplace, not ever. The time for pulling someone aside privately is over.

    Listen and learn from the women around you and their stories and recognise the privilege that men have had. Call out any behaviour that disrespects women.

    At Medibank we celebrate gender equality and all forms of diversity but we also back that up with policies that promote gender equality.

    These policies need to have teeth and be more than words on a page. Like challenging the status quo by encouraging men to take on caring duties at home and offering our employees uncapped paid domestic violence leave. We have also had a very strong focus on pay equity at Medibank.

    We also focus strongly on encouraging people to bring their whole self to work and ensuring that our people feel safe and confident to express themselves. And we recognise that to have an inclusive culture we need to have a workplace that is flexible.

    Personally, I’ve held a number of sessions with senior Medibank women to hear their stories and understand their perspectives and to ask them if there are gaps in our policies and processes. It’s a journey, not a once a year tick the box exercise. If we need to make changes, to do better, then we will.

    If you are a parent or carer, you must role-model respect, it’s the best way to teach children about respectful relationships and how to treat women. If children understand gender equality, they’re more likely to understand that girls and women deserve respect.

    Outside of Medibank, as a Member of the Champions of Change I’ve had a very prominent role in developing robust workplace responses to domestic and family violence and rethinking how we prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.

    There’s been a culture of silence for too long. Lasting change can only happen if we speak up. We all need to step up, leadership really matters.

    Sexual harassment and assault is a reflection and symptom of gender power dynamics and inequality. Workplace and school yard cultures should never normalise, tolerate or excuse disrespectful behaviour.

    Challenge people if you hear them say ‘it doesn’t happen’, or ‘she just wanted attention’, or ‘she can’t be trusted’, or ‘she shouldn’t have been walking alone at night’.

    Violence against women is endemic with one woman killed every week by domestic violence in Australia, and one in three women having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

    Everyone has the right to work and live in an environment free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and violence.

    Change has been slow and that’s not good enough. The time for small steps is over. It is time for lasting change.

    The last few weeks have been confronting and highlight the real scale of this problem.

    While media reports highlight the impacts of violence and harassment, they can be very real reminders of what a person has or is experiencing. It can bring up painful and distressing memories of past violence and also encourage victims to feel they can speak up. I encourage people to call 1800RESPECT to receive counselling and support.

    This opinion piece was first published in Newscorp publications and online on March 20.

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