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Enough is enough

Enough is enough

By Stuart Webb

Communication Leadership 

The LIV is developing a protocol for dealing with sexual harassment. Enough talk. It is time to act. Lawyers are very good at talking. Be it convincing others of the merits of an idea, arguing respectfully in court for a client’s interests or on a point of law, or bringing people together to work on some proposal, when we choose to we have the capacity to speak with authority. When we are not talking we are writing: contracts, agreements, opinions, advices, policies, legislation, even decisions. We are good at communicating, I think it is at the heart of our profession. So it might be surprising that I am calling for the end of talking and writing, and requesting that the profession take action on the issue of sexual harassment in our profession. It is time to take the workplace policies that have been drafted, circulated and rightfully recognised as reflecting of good practice and make them meaningful, encouraged to be used when circumstances warrant, and given the power imbalance that often exists in these circumstances, protecting the complainant from retribution when making their complaint. These policies cannot just look good on the shelf, they need to be demonstrated as effective when a complaint of this nature is made. The Victorian Bar reported in October 2018 that 16 per cent of female barristers and 2 per cent of male barristers reported experiencing sexual harassment in the past year. This is not much different to the one in five women and one in 20 men who reported experiencing sexual harassment in 2008. In talking to people, mostly women, many recount an example of an experience where they were subjected to inappropriate comments or unwelcome advances. We need these experiences to be called out so that they stop. It is up to all of us to act on this, we can no longer be bystanders to practices that are not tolerated in our workplaces. We cannot stand idly by when we hear stories around the coffee machine, seen through an office door at night, or the subject of gossip at the bar. As Lord Mayor Sally Capp recently told the LIV, you are either on the bus or standing in front of the bus saying no. You can’t run alongside. So what is being done? The LIV is developing a protocol for dealing with sexual harassment. Some firms already have good policies in this area and we want to highlight their achievement. The recent announcement that 20 legal bodies were recognised by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency as leaders in gender equality is great recognition of their activities. The LIV will offer assistance to firms and practitioners who may not have the capacity to develop their own policies and practices so that they may become employers of choice because of their actions. In February 2019 the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner launched a 12-month initiative to examine appropriate organisational responses to, and prevention of, sexual harassment. This includes a survey of the profession, guidance on non-disclosure agreements, and building partnerships with important stakeholders in this space, including WorkSafe Victoria, VEOHRC and the LIV and the Victorian Bar. Victoria Legal Aid joined a coalition of more than 100 legal, health, community, family violence and union groups to advocate for key reforms in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national inquiry into sexual harassment, calling for reforms including enforceable positive duties on employers to prevent sexual harassment. There is so much impetus around this issue that no one can afford to ignore it. That WorkSafe is part of the discussion indicates the seriousness with which this challenge is being addressed. Acting on sexual harassment complaints is an aspect of the broader discussion about creating working environments that are conducive to productive and enjoyable work experiences. We need to create workplaces for all lawyers to work to the high level they are capable of, to employ the skills and expertise on behalf of their clients. We need a profession that is prepared to stand up and say enough is enough, sexual harassment is not a part of the workplace that I belong to. I look forward to acting with you all in making this happen. Stuart Webb LIV President Email -  Twitter - @livpresident  Blog -

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