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Gender Discrimination: speak out, suffer in silence or just move on?

Have you faced gender discrimination at work? Know someone who has? Did they speak out? And if so, how did that work for them? A storm has erupted over comments on this very issue by Isobel Redmond, Leader of the Opposition in my home State of South Australia, earlier this week.  At a women’s event in Adelaide, Ms Redmond fielded a question from the audience asking her advice on the issue.  Her response – to the effect that a lawsuit might not be the best response – has been construed by certain commentators as Ms Redmond condoning gender discrimination, which I’m certain is not how it was intended.

News Limited reported Ms Redmond’s comments at the event: “I think it is easier a lot of the time to just try to ignore the discrimination and get on with being the best councillor you can be, or the best whatever it is, and ask intelligent questions and … I think you’ll find the discrimination will just disappear,” and suggested that she went even further, suggesting that women who used legal channels to fight discrimination tended to make people hate them.

Hate them?  Strong words? I tend to agree.  Look at the outrage heaped against Kirsty Fraser-Kirk when she commenced proceedings against Mark McInness, the former CEO of David Jones.  The ire heaped against her when she filed allegations her former boss tried to kiss her and put his hand under her clothes was hard to believe.  The case eventually settled out of court and McInnes has gone onto another multi-million dollar CEO role.  Fraser-Kirk? At 26 years of age she was virtually unemployable and has attempted to kickstart her career… In Singapore.

What about Christina Rich, the former PwC partner who took on the boys club in her own firm, in a precedent-setting sexual discrimination case?  Her business name was so tarnished that she no longer goes by the same surname, and has also had to completely reinvent her career.  All the while, who even remembers the men she blew the whistle on?

Jessica Rowe has spoken out against Ms Redmond on The Hoopla today, issueing a call to action that “we need some lionesses to rage about inequality in the workplace.”  Rowe then goes on to give three specific instances of gender discrimination or harassment perpetrated against her, and in all three cases she decided not to rage about the inequality.

Let me clearly state my position: gender discrimination or harassment of any sort must not be condoned, ignored or perpetrated.  We all have a responsibility to speak out, demand equality and be the change we want to see in the world.

And if we’re all serious about making this a reality, we have to stop – as a society – pointing the finger of blame at the plaintiff when she speaks out.

Likewise, we need to ensure there are easy, expedient and affordable means to blow the whistle.  Friends of mine have been caught up in cases that have lasted months and months before resolution was reached.  It cost them thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees, lost income and – I think – reputational impact.  Some of them have never returned to the workforce.

Maybe what Isobel Redmond was trying to say is that “there are many ways to skin a cat”: being really good at what you do is one of them; blowing the whistle internally is another; going all the way to a lawsuit is another.  Let’s be realistic: they all come with different costs and benefits.

Your thoughts?


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