Real Stories Lead to Real Change

Real Stories Lead to Real Change

Karen Maher was recently interviewed by the Australian Mining Review as part of their November 2021 edition about our approach to eradicating sexual harassment in mining.

For too long in Australia, the status quo around workplace bullying and sexual harassment/assault has been lacking.
— a recent Western Mine workers Alliance survey into sexual harassment in the FIFO mining industry found that a high proportion of women were experiencing harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. The WA parliament has established an inquiry into the issue.

The inquiry follows on from the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) released by Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The report found that in the mining industry, 74 per cent women and 32 per cent men have reported experiencing sexual harassment over the past five years. The rate of sexual harassment overall was 40%, higher than the rate across all industries of 31%.

The individual stories of women on mining sites where harassment or assault are too common and have compelled several key players in the industry to make certain changes like committing to workplace gender equality targets. In 2018–19, women made up just 16% of workers in the mining industry.

Workplace Health & Safety Consultant Karen Maher explains one of the issues across sites and workplaces is that most systems and policies in place are still reactive. They focus on punitive measures to be applied after an incident of harassment or assault has already been committed. This fails for two key reasons:

  1. If management doesn’t fully understand the impact of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace, these punitive measures may not be applied effectively.
  2. No punishment, no matter how fairly and effectively applied, can undo the harm of assault or harassment already committed.

In contrast to this approach, Ms Maher says we should be focusing on cultural change that is proactive and is about changing behaviour, striving for safety, and preventing harm. Karen Maher is a former employment/health and safety lawyer with more than 17 years of experience spanning her career and the owner of cutting-edge consultancy firm SmartCulture.

Karen has remained in the consultancy and culture change space for more than a decade. Her aim is to “get ahead of the game” by creating a workplace culture that prevents workplace bullying and sexual harassment. Ms Maher’s approach is to combine the real stories of people who have been harassed or assaulted in the workplace with the legal approach and practical guidance, to drive the point home from several perspectives. Including these real case stories demonstrates the serious impact of harassment and assault, whereas in some workplaces it might not be considered a risk to employee safety.

“Sharing the stories of how things can go wrong helps people connect to the importance of safety and culture. Real stories get people thinking differently.” says Ms Maher.

These real stories reflect the experiences of people who work in mining, where a male-dominated workforce (especially in management) and isolated working/ living conditions have increased incidences of harmful behaviour to alarming rates.

“We need to be switching away from the reactive mode where we’re dealing with things in the aftermath. Instead, we need to move into that proactive mode where we’re identifying and controlling risk.”

SmartCulture provides customised solutions that identify the different levels of information and strategy that are most relevant and effective for the different sections of the workforce — informing managers and leaders on the reality, impact and widespread risk of sexual assault and harassment is a key way of initiating that culture.

Tackling this issue from an organisational perspective and changing what defines a good leader to include someone who is proactive about preventing sexual assault and harassment is crucial.

Source: Australian Mining Review, November 2021

Contact us for more information about our new SmartCulture® multi-level program – Sexual Harassment Prevention in Mining.