"Paper policies" can make a difference
According to leading business academics Professors Paula McDonald and Sara Charlesworth, "paper policies" can transform workplace cultures and reduce sexual harassment. However WHS/OHS laws must be amended to explicitly mandate proactive harassment prevention and complaint mechanisms.
In their submission to the national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, they say that while employers' policies on sexual harassment are often viewed as doing more to protect employers from liability than assisting complainants, the policies and the management systems supporting them "have a greater capacity to change attitudes and behaviour than relying on legal protections alone".
"Such workplace 'regulation' can make a difference to the everyday lives of many women and some men who would never invoke their rights in a public or legal forum," they say. "The creation of a sexual harassment policy is generally considered a minimum benchmark for primary prevention. This is because policies, and associated practices, are designed to create respectful and hospitable work environments that do not demean workers on the basis of sex, and there is evidence that paper policies have translated into real change in corporate culture, as judged by women themselves."
But to be effective the policies must be:
- highly visible and widely disseminated
- given high level support and commitment
- developed through consultation