The West Australian Parliament’s Community Development and Justice Standing Committee recently released its second report into sexual harassment of women in the FIFO mining industry. It makes for sobering reading. The stories seem almost inconceivable in today’s society, making the need to address the findings comprehensively and urgently even more critical.
Much of the report seeks to address the culture of these worksites and, as we all know, culture is built on systems, processes and symbols. Having studied the report, there are some practical steps that organisations can adopt to ensure there is zero tolerance of sexual harassment in their workplaces, and, if this is not the case, what needs to change to achieve this.
“Do Not Rehire” Flag
The report discusses in some depth creating an industry register, but this will take time. My suggestion is that all organisations implement a “do not rehire” flag on their HRIS systems. This can be used when there has been questionable behaviour that may or may not have been investigated. Although it won’t help other industry participants, it will be a solid start for the organisation implementing it. It should also be incorporated into the Talent Acquisition Team procedures to check this flag ahead of new hirings. It could also be integrated into the procedures for sub-contractors to ensure this is not a channel that former employees can use to get “rehired”.
Increasingly organisations are using behavioural interviewing techniques to understand a potential candidate’s skills and experiences. So, why not use this technique to delve into appropriate workplace conduct? Perhaps using questions such as “have you ever observed others in the workplace demonstrating behaviour that would not meet our industry standards for appropriate workplace behaviour and what did you do about this?” or “at any stage have others spoken to you about your behaviour in the workplace and, if so, what was the context and what did you do about it? I recognise that these questions alone will not eradicate poor behaviour, but it puts the candidate on notice that this is important and makes them think twice about what they need to disclose to their future employer.
Review of Policies
This action is an explicit recommendation. It is a requirement to make the policies more victim centred. It would be an excellent initiative having victims included as part of the solution in designing new policies, using their lived experience as a guide. Obviously, this is dependent on whether victims wish to participate but offering the opportunity to shape the future may prove a healing experience.
Spot Check Training
In the airline industry, flight crews get quizzed on various safety elements before flying, be it aircraft details or procedures. This type of reminder training should be implemented on FIFO sites to ensure individuals understand what is required of them, as well as reinforcing the importance of the messages in the mandatory training.
Contractors & Labour Hire Companies
These workers should complete the same training as permanent employees as well as acknowledging the employer’s code of conduct on any site where they work. Contracts with labour hire companies should be updated to include clauses detailing what constitutes appropriate behaviour and the consequence management framework in place to deal with any breaches. Employers also need to ensure that previous employees of the site are vetted before an employment offer in line with the recommendation on the “do not rehire” flag.
All women on site should be allocated a “buddy” whose role is to be on the lookout for pervasive behaviour and act as the ultimate bystander to protect them from this behaviour. They should be tasked with defending appropriate behaviour towards women as well as highlighting poor behaviour more broadly.
Independent & Confidential Support
Many sites promote access to EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) to support the psychological impact. This is to be encouraged but is only part of the support framework that people require. Services such as Ombpoint offer a confidential sounding board where employees can, at their own pace, explore the various options available to them before making any decision. Allowing women to take control of how they wish to progress the matter is critical to their self-esteem and is supportive of the findings from Respect@Work.
The Investment Community
Many in the investment management industry focus on ESG issues when assessing where to invest. It must be incumbent on them to develop a framework to assess the quality of the response of these companies – not just from a policy or artefacts perspective – but by engaging deeply with companies on these sites to better understand what happens and whether change is occurring. Instead of requesting broad gender statistics, they should be asking for a statistical breakdown on each FIFO site. They should be visiting and asking to see the investment in safety systems. They should also be talking to employees (not those rolled out by the organisation) to check their understanding of what the actions and procedures are if they are involved in or observe inappropriate behaviour.
This report is an encouraging start, bringing to the surface sexual harassment issues that need immediate resolution. My great fear is that with the significant labour shortages in WA and Australia generally, this will deter organisations addressing these poor behaviours. I hope I am wrong.
Lindall West | Managing Director
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