Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton's opinion piece around addressing everyday sexism in Victoria Police and the community.
Everyday sexism. So often brushed off in the moment, can have serious long term consequences.
It’s all too common that calls for greater equality in our society are dismissed without any real contemplation of the very real issues at play. As Police Commissioner it is important that I ensure that everyday sexism is addressed in Victoria Police, but it is an issue that applies equally to the community at large.
To live up to our commitment to keep all Victorians safe, police behaviour has to be exemplary and our workplace safe, inclusive and where everyone can realise their potential. If not, our ability to keep people safe will be reduced, and our response to crime and work with victims less effective than it should be.
In my policing career I’ve learned some important lessons about the personal and professional harm of everyday sexism.
In particular I’ve seen that the cumulative impact of everyday sexism is as detrimental as the one-off, more serious incidents of sexual harassment, discrimination and predatory behaviour. It can have a long term impact on self-esteem, personal relationships and general health.
In more than 37 years both as a police officer and leading organisations in times of cultural change, I have dealt with all kinds of people and issues and have also learned a few things about human behaviour. Poor behaviour is by no means gendered, but in everyday sexism, men don’t always treat women as well as they should.
As a Male Champion of Change and in support of the release of We Set the Tone: Eliminating Everyday Sexism, I call on senior leaders of all organisations, and in particular men, to consider setting the tone on everyday sexism.
If you think everyday sexism isn’t occurring in your community or organisation, you are kidding yourself. Eyes must be opened to find out what is going on in your organisation and lead the change that is needed.
Leaders and managers at all levels in the community need to honestly examine how their behaviour is contributing to the tone and culture of their organisation. Nobody is going to challenge everyday sexism if it is not being modelled above them. It’s your job to inspire other leaders in your organisation to be brave.
Sexism can start with the seemingly small things, like a joke in poor taste or exclusionary behaviour. Everyday events like these, if not challenged, create the permissive environment for more challenging behaviours to occur.
Women don’t need men to protect them, but they do need them to behave appropriately and remind other men who overstep the mark that their behaviour is not OK.
Listen to women’s experiences. They are not making this up. Men don’t experience everyday sexism as much as women do, but their stories make it real for us.
Don’t be defensive if you inadvertently offend someone. Have an open and respectful conversation about the issue. We are all entitled to learn and grow from mistakes.
I have previously spoken of my own experiences over the years when I did not ‘call out’ poor behaviours that I witnessed. I have learnt from that and now understand that we can all carve out a leadership role on this issue.
Listen to, and understand, the lived experiences of your employees, and then lead with action to eliminate any culture of everyday sexism. This will create safer and more productive workplaces.
Graham Ashton is Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police
Reviewed 28 June 2021