Sexual harassment in ASX200 companies: new research

19% of companies report that the Board has primary accountability for the prevention and response to sexual harassment, according to research released today. While companies are collecting a broad range of information, it is not being used effectively to prevent and address sexual harassment.

The research report was undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, and commissioned by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors. It outlines the state of sexual harassment reporting in Australia’s largest companies and provides eight recommendations to support the prevention of sexual harassment, and appropriate management of any incidents.

The research provides an in depth look at how companies are responding to sexual harassment with 59% of ASX200 companies participating in the research survey. Along with quantitative data the report draws from in depth interviews with 16 ASX200 companies and desktop research.

Key findings of the research include:
• 64% of companies have a mechanism that identifies and mitigates risk factors for sexual harassment
• 19% of companies report that the Board has primary accountability for the prevention and response to sexual harassment.
• While 60% of respondents indicate that their company’s Executive Management Team is required to undergo training on good governance and sexual harassment, only 19% of respondents reported that directors undergo training on good governance and sexual harassment.
• A wide variety of data is collected that is relevant to sexual harassment.
• There is opportunity to improve how data is used in to prevent and address sexual harassment. Board discussions are more likely to be reactive to issues rather than proactive.
• Less than one third of companies publicly report information relevant to sexual harassment in line with the ASX Corporate Governance Principles, and 14% of respondents do not report externally at all.

AHRC Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said, “Workplace sexual harassment causes immense social and economic harm, with the annual cost to the Australian economy estimated to be $3.8 billion in 2018.

“I welcome ACSI’s initiative in commissioning this survey and report, and their recognition of the critical role that ASX200 boards and executive management have in preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment.

“The report’s recommendations offer a blueprint for Australia’s largest corporations to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment in their workplaces and build safer, more equal workplaces for all.”

ACSI CEO Louise Davidson said “All organisations need to approach sexual harassment seriously and have measures in place to prevent sexual harassment and to deal with it effectively when it arises. This is a fundamental part of providing a safe workplace for all employees.


“There is plenty of evidence over recent times that companies that fail to appropriately manage this issue do significant damage. Long term investors have an interest in ensuring the companies they invest in are well run, safe for their employees, and have culture that prevents and addresses workplace sexual harassment when it occurs.

“At the moment it is very difficult for investors to assess how well companies are addressing issues of sexual harassment and disclosures are limited. The high level of participation in the research demonstrates that companies have a strong interest in understanding what better practice looks like.”

The eight recommendations include tangible steps companies can take such as demonstrating board leadership and being clear on accountability, setting gender diversity targets, aligning performance management and remuneration of the CEO and executive managers, collecting, analysing and using data to make decisions and reporting to the Board.

Two specific recommendations are made for investors – to specifically seek information regarding a company’s systems and processes to address sexual harassment and to advocate for improved transparency and public disclosure on sexual harassment.

Media contact: Nathan Robertson, ACSI (0423 874 662)
Georgia Waters, AHRC (georgia.waters@humanrights.gov.au)

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