“We are at a turning point” to improve equality


Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. Source: AAP / David Moir

When Kate Jenkins was growing up in the 1970s in her family orchard outside Melbourne with two brothers, she vividly remembers watching a report on Deborah Lawrie (known as Deborah Wardley when she was married ), becoming Australia’s first female pilot to fly with a major airline. after winning again a landmark sex discrimination case, Ansett Airlines.

“I have fond memories of seeing Deborah on the front page of the newspaper when she went to the High Court after being denied a pilot role purely on the basis of gender. As a 10 year old girl, I was pissed off, ”Jenkins recalls.

“There was something about Deborah’s story that made me realize that being a woman didn’t mean that I was a lesser person and that I should have the same opportunities as my brothers.

Jenkins’ childhood outrage for an aggrieved pilot sparked a long crusade against discrimination. After studying law at the University of Melbourne, she spent 20 years as a Senior Equal Opportunity Partner at the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills before becoming Equal Opportunities Commissioner and Victoria Human Rights Commission in 2013, then Gender Discrimination Commissioner at the Commission on Human Rights in 2016.

In this capacity, Jenkins led the historic National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces and is currently leading an independent review of the culture of Parliament following allegations of rape, abuse and harassment in Australian workplaces. sacred halls of the building.

Next month, Jenkins will speak at the Australian HR Institute’s Diversity and Inclusion conference on Australia’s sexual harassment crisis and its hopes for the future of equality.

In this Q&A, she tells reporter Alley Pascoe that now is the time for a change.

“Well, the change should occurred 30 years ago when the Sex Discrimination Act was recorded, but the structural and behavioral barriers were deeply embedded, ”she says.

“Things have changed now and we are at a crossroads. We’re not going back to the way it was, we have to change that now.

What has it taken Australia to get to this point in time, where real change is happening and women are demanding better from their workplaces and from society as a whole?

We came to this turning point by building on the momentum and awareness created by those who came before us. Since Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 we saw the change happen, but the movement really started to build from 2017 when #MeToo was on fire. At the time, some articles said that #MeToo had failed in Australia.

But social change doesn’t happen because of a hashtag, it happens because of engagement, government awareness and factual research, which the Commission on Human Rights does. In a way, March4Justice is the symbol of the conversations that have taken place since 2017. We all know that our workplaces should be safe and respectful for everyone; and we’re not going to let the people in power get away with it.

It certainly feels like this moment is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many women over many years. Why do you hope this will lead to real change?

I am confident for several reasons. The community as a whole – women and men – is waiting for the change of government. And I think the government heard their voices because it asked the Human Rights Commission to look at the parliamentary environment and make recommendations. This survey will provide evidence-based solutions and clear pathways. It’s not a hashtag, it examines issues and finds solutions with cross-party support.

The other reason I am very optimistic is that following the [email protected] investigation, the government has said it agrees with the 55 recommendations and is working to implement them.

The last reason for my hope is the nature of the conversations I have. The people engaged in these conversations with me probably wouldn’t have done so five years ago. So by increasing the number and diversity of people who think about women’s safety, there is a real chance for change. That’s why I’m going to look back and say 2021 was a turning point.

How did you experience the inequalities in your own career?

I have been very privileged as an able-bodied white woman. But, looking back, I think if I had been a guy I would have become an engineer because I was a math / science student. I chose the right because the engineering was not very welcoming [to women]. I can cite so many times in my career where I have faced barriers and assumptions that women cannot do certain jobs.

I would say a lot of women in my generation have watched the stories that have come out over the past 12 months that were triggered by memories of their careers: of sexual assault, harassment, pain, injustice and harassment. ‘sexist obstacles. There is heartbreak among women knowing that they haven’t gotten to where they might have been in their careers if we had real equality. It is appalling that we have not made the progress the country made a commitment to in 1984. But now that these stories have surfaced, I know that the people who speak out will make a real difference.

What is the first step to take to implement the 55 recommendations you made in the [email protected]: National investigation report on sexual harassment?

It’s like asking me to choose which of my 55 kids is my favorite! If I oversimplify, I think we need legislative reform first to simplify, clarify and make laws simpler. When there is confusion in the underlying laws it dilutes the chances that workplaces will follow them, so legislative change is important. Legislation should make it clear that employers are responsible for providing a safe and respectful workplace – and workplaces should then think about prevention and step up their efforts.

Meanwhile, there is a need for independent support, security and information for the victims. We need a victim-centered approach to reduce harm and prevent lifelong trauma. For wider community change, we must continue to conduct research and collect data and information to support our work, and continue to have conversations about reducing violence, promoting gender equality, education of young people and better relationships.

You are a keynote speaker at the next AHRI Diversity and Inclusion Conference. What does true inclusion look like to you?

True inclusion means that each person feels welcome and is able to realize their full potential at work. This means that everyone can get to work and feel safe, without fear or fear.

Why should organizations make diversity and inclusion a priority?

There are several reasons. Basically, it’s the right thing to do. But also, the evidence is very clear that diverse organizations with inclusive leadership teams and a gender balance deliver better results and allow more innovation. Thus, ensuring that people uphold their human rights and having a more productive and efficient team are two sides of the same coin.

It’s a win-win. As Gender Discrimination Commissioner, you are truly leading the movement against sexual harassment. How do you deal with this pressure and find the strength to keep fighting the good fight?

Personally, I am very motivated by this moment in time, but I had to manage my schedule better to be able to perform to the best of my ability. I am grateful for the work we are doing to change the nation. I’m definitely not the only one doing this work, there are people across the country, and I’m inspired by everyone who walks, speaks out and contributes.

Kate Jenkins speaks at the Australian HR Institute’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference May 21.

This article was first publication through Women’s agenda.

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