THE nature of regional towns can be great for promoting equality as much as they can make it hard for many women to feel confident speaking up against sexual discrimination, the Australian Human Rights Commission is hearing.
Federal sexual discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, speaking in Ballarat on Wednesday, said the role of workplace culture had been a strong recurring theme for those she had spoken to across the nation the past 12 months. But for many, it was how to best shape culture.
Ms Jenkins said, in her experience, no workplace - small or large; regional, rural or metropolitan - was immune from facing gender equality and discrimination issues.
This was why she said it was important to keep forums, like Not In My Workplace, generating discussion in a bid to help each other improve culture.
"What we're hearing in regional areas is people can find it particularly hard to speak up because the community is quite small - your boss might be the president of the local footy club or there might be limited employment opportunity in town - but there can be positives, too," Ms Jenkins said.
"In small towns, people tend to care for each other more. Bosses can be more prepared to work with staff and accommodate them more."
Ms Jenkins spoke at the first regional Not In My Workplace forum, hosted by Sovereign Hill, a day after joining NIMW discussions in Sydney.
The decorated Ballarat panel featured workplace equality champions OurWatch chief Patty Kinnersly, human rights lawyer Elizabeth Lacey, Ballarat police Superintendent Jenny Wilson, Hepburn Shire chief Evan King and Sovereign Hill chief Sara Quon.
Ms Jenkins said it was important to promote such talk in regional centres, in a bid to reach more workplace owners and leaders who might otherwise miss a chance to connect with forums in capital cities.
NIMW is a organisation tackling sexism and gender inequality started by chief executives and directors across the nation keen to ensure such behaviour and culture was not impeding on their workplaces.
UFS Dispensaries chief executive officer Lynne McLennan is the organisation's vice-president and told The Courier UFS was keen to promote moves to tackle sexual discrimination, an issue it viewed as a major health issue in communities.
Ms Jenkins applauded NIMW as a grassroots leadership approach to actively do something in driving change in light of other movements like Me Too.
There's a real desire for change and I do think culture is changing. I think because of what we've seen in awareness for family violence and gender equity that it's important in how we deal with people at work.Kate Jenkins, federal sexual discrimination commissioner
"There's a real desire for change and I do think culture is changing," Ms Jenkins said. "I think because of what we've seen in awareness for family violence and gender equity that it's important in how we deal with people at work.
"The questions coming from this are in what change we should have and what does 'good' look like."
Ms Jenkins was presenting the Ballarat forum with a snapshot from what she had uncovered in talking to people and taking submissions the past 12 months for the Australian Human Rights Commission.
When it came to workplaces, the Sydney forum set the tone for importance in leadership, specifically direct leadership, in driving culture. This was in both male and female leadership.
Ms Jenkins said it was vital to recognise culture was not about one or two "bad men" creating trouble but sexual discrimination was a broader workplace issue.
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