New research commissioned by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors has indicated that Australia’s largest companies still have a serious skill gap when it comes to incorporating workplace harassment in governance frameworks, indicating a potential risk for major investors.
ACSI commissioned the research by Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to look at how ASX 200 boards were dealing with the issue of workplace harassment, following AMP’s dramatic tumble in share price since revelations around former AMP Capital chief Boe Pahari became public knowledge.
One hundred eighteen (118) of the top 200 companies on the ASX chose to participate in the research, with just 19 per cent of those surveyed saying their boards had some accountability for harassment incidents.
Around 43 per cent said the company board had harassment as a regular agenda item.
Addressing ACSI’s annual conference on Wednesday, Ms Jenkins said there was a correlation between boards with more gender and skill diversity, and those who took harassment seriously as an issue.
“We saw that where there were more women on boards, there was more likely to be a discussion of the topic,” Ms Jenkins said.
“We also made recommendations [in the report] about expertise, because we saw boards that had people who – often it did involve women – had at least a more insightful interest in gender equality who asked better questions [about incidents].”
While corporate Australia’s Male Champions of Change movement has been criticised for its tokenism, Ms Jenkins said the research found these sorts of programs did make a difference in empowering male board members to further interrogate the issue of harassment.
“Men who have been involved in that sort of activity ask better questions, and the executive teams then say if my board shows an interest in this, it gives us licence to do more forward-thinking work [on harassment],” Ms Jenkins said.
Just 19 per cent of companies surveyed said their boards were doing training on governance and harassment, which Ms Jenkins said underlined a continuing gap in expertise when it came to putting together a practical harassment framework or policy.
“There has been an increase in data collection on harassment, but how it was used was often ad hoc – information might be collected internally but kept confidential, reported to HR or occasionally to the executive team, but across the board it often did not make its way to the board,” she said.
“Internally, managers up the line wouldn’t share information – there was no learning on what was happening and no ability to prevent it next time.”
Westpac remains committed to the sale of its Pacific businesses despite a competition regulator knocking back a proposed acquisition. ...