The former minister for foreign affairs has reflected on how organisations treat allegations of sexual assault, telling players in the investment industry that she had been concerned to learn of employers not informing the police.
In the past week, a historical rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter has come to light and three women joined Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal Party staffer, in airing allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against a colleague in Defence Minister Linda Reynold’s office.
Julie Bishop, chancellor at the Australian National University and former minister for foreign affairs, commented she had been “troubled” during the recent Liberal Party reports and in other stories of sexual assault in workplaces, to learn of employers that had either chosen to not inform the police, or had delayed telling them until much later.
“When I was a managing partner at a law firm way back, I understood it to be my duty to inform the police. And if the complainant didn’t want to press charges or wanted confidentiality or privacy, then that was a matter they would have to work out with the police and the lawyers,” she told attendees at the CFA Societies International Women’s Day luncheon.
“But as the employer, it was not up to me to cover up an allegation of a crime. I had a duty not only to the person but to the entire workforce to tell the police, then the complainant, the victim, can work out with the police how it should be handled.”
The government, she added, should be setting an example for other workplaces, with the current fallout hopefully set to trigger a culture shake-up in Canberra.
“Parliament House is where lawmakers gather, we make the laws, we legislate on workplace relations and what our workplaces should look like across Australia, and to me, Parliament House should be the model workplace,” Ms Bishop declared.
“That’s where the gold standard of workplace behaviour should be set. And yet, it’s not.”
According to Ms Bishop, Parliament currently does not require new entrants to complete induction programs or training around behaviour or culture.
“There’s no moral code. I know that you shouldn’t have to tell people this is right and that’s wrong, but people do need reminding of their rights and responsibilities,” Ms Bishop said.
“I would have ongoing training, I would have feedback constantly and I would most certainly have an independent counselling service. You see, political parties are so absolutely focused on preserving their party’s prospects, that they will do anything to manage risk, manage a crisis, and not necessarily in a textbook way – because political parties’ prospects are at stake.”
Quotas and diversity
Sandi Orleow, director for the Sydney arm of CFA Societies and trustee director at Local Government Super noted the finance industry is also “male dominated” with workers sometimes facing the difficulties of being a single female voice in the room.
But Ms Bishop said while she believes in gender targets that hold hiring managers accountable, she is “not a fan of mandatory quotas”.
“My problem with mandatory quotas is the unintended consequence. And that is you end up putting people into a job because you have to fill the quota, rather than finding the best person for the job,” Ms Bishop said.
During her tenure with the Liberal Party, the Turnbull government had placed targets for the number of women appointed to Commonwealth government boards, for around 5,000 positions across committees and councils.
Then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had initially suggested 30 per cent female representation, but the women in the party pushed the target to 50 per cent, Ms Bishop said. Cabinet ministers were then held accountable for fulfilling the target across the councils and advisory boards in their portfolio.
“Competent females are available in every walk of life,” she said.
“It just made us think more, ask more questions, not roll out the usual, not just ring up your best mate, it actually took effort to find people who could fulfil these jobs.
“The women were highly qualified, highly competent, as good, if not better and it worked.
“Because you were held accountable for that target. But if it had been a quota and I had to just randomly go out and find five women to fill a… board, well you might not do the work that you should do to ensure you are getting good, qualified, quality, meritorious people.”
She also commented organisations should be looking to gain from different leadership styles, arguing having diverse voices among their leadership is the “smart thing to do”.
“There’s been a lot of evidence on it, so it’s not my idea but I certainly have observed that women are more transformational,” she added.
“They tend to focus on the needs of the individual. They build a team from the ground up, they focus on professional development, they focus very empathetically on how the individuals in that team are feeling.
“Men are far more transactional. They build a team, they set the goals and they hold that team to account for this empathetic part is focused on the individual, far more on the bigger picture. Both styles have strengths and weaknesses.”
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].
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