What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 17 August 2020 – 23 August 2020

AMP shareholders Speak Out About Previous Handling of Sexual Harassment Complaint

A week ago, Julia Szlakowski, a former AMP executive who was sexually harassed in 2017, by her then boss, Boe Pahari, spoke out for the first time to express anger that he was promoted to chief executive of AMP Capital while she had been left traumatised and her career prematurely shortened. After she resigned and received a $500,000 settlement which was the equivalent of a $500,000 ‘fine’ he received by Amp at the time.

Within the week shareholders expressed their concern that Mr Pahari was promoted given this history and the result has been a domino like effect of resignations within AMP starting with the Chairman, Mr Murray and then a board member Mr Fraser, and the demotion of Mr Pahari, back to his previous position. It’s unfortunate that it took the voices of the shareholders to hold AMP to account but it is also encouraging that this has happened and I hope it sends a message to other companies to think carefully about how they manage genuine complaints of inappropriate behaviour and the characteristics of those they put in senior leadership positions.

Lush Employees Say Complaints Not Managed Appropriately

Three current employees at Lush claim the cosmetics company inappropriately handled and ignored reports of sexual harassment, bullying and homophobia. The reports include an instance where a co-worker followed one of the complainant’s home in her car several nights after work. The complainant told the Guardian she is not satisfied with the action Lush took. ‘We told them we don’t trust them to handle grievances anymore,’ the staff member said. ‘They pretty much had a mediation session, which I didn’t really want to do,’ she explained. ‘If someone stalked me to my car and stares at me every day, the last thing I want to do is [sit at] the table … with our managers and try and sort it out,’ she said. Another employee formally complained about a staff member who used ‘pretty vile and homophobic’ language around the warehouse. ‘This was explained to [the] people support [team] and [the perpetrator] admitted to it, but she still continues to work for the company,’ the employee explained. In a recent statement, director of Lush Australia and New Zealand, Mark Lincoln, said he was aware of complaints, and stated that Lush ‘always’ wants staff to feel safe. ‘Since these concerns were raised, we have reviewed every past and present complaint, both formal and informal. Throughout the review period, it has become apparent that many of these issues were things we were previously unaware of, whilst other incidents were recorded and believed to be fully resolved,’ Lincoln said. In the statement, Lush Australia affirmed that all complaints have ‘resulted in some form of disciplinary action,’ and over a third resulted in the person being fired. Lincoln confirmed that, moving forward, Lush will improve its systems for dealing with complaints. ‘Our priority at the moment is providing improved communication on the systems available, so that our staff feel empowered to access what is needed during all the ups and downs of working life,’ he said.

Highest Number of Female Directors on ASX 300 Boards

The Australian Institute of Company Directors has reported that the proportion of female directors on ASX 300 boards reached a record high of 29.3 per cent in July, up from 24.9 per cent in May 2018. Nicola Wakefield Evans, Macquarie Group director, is pleased that only one ASX 200 company, Silver Lake Resources, has no female board members. This marks a significant improvement from five years ago, when 50 ASX 200 companies had no female represented on the board. ‘It’s a complete turnaround. It’s a really positive achievement.’ Ms Wakefield Evans expressed hope that the increase in female representation will bring issues of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination into the fore. Claire Braund, chief executive of Women on Boards, hopes the changing dynamic on boards will ‘encourage companies to be more pro-active to reduce the number of incidents.’ ‘It will raise awareness of the problem and put a greater focus on the need to do something about it. Hopefully it will also crystallise for directors and management that this is everyone’s issue. It is not just a women’s issue. It is an issue for men and women,’ Ms Braund said.

Disability Royal Commission Hearings Continue

The next hearing of the Disability Royal Commission, which will investigate the experiences of people living with disability, is due to re-commence on Tuesday. People living with a disability, their families, advocates and experts, will give evidence across the four-day hearing. The coronavirus pandemic has shed new light on the Royal Commission, with growing discussions around the role of flexible working arrangement. Currently, in Australia, almost half of unemployed 15 to 64-year-olds with disability report having experienced discrimination from an employer. However, with an increase in flexible working arrangements, people living with a disability may be able to more comfortably and effectively contribute to their workplace. Jordan O’Reilly, the CEO of the non-for-profit organisation Hireup, said there should be no excuse for employers to impose barriers on hiring people with disability, especially following the recent success of remote working. ‘A lot of my friends are people with disabilities who for years have been saying – whether it’s the workforce or whether it’s university studies – that we should be more flexible and think about ways that we can include more people,’ he said. ‘I am hopeful that it’s going to lead to a brighter future and more inclusive future for everyone,’ Mr O’Reilly concluded.