Cultivating Inclusive Culture: The Heart of Respect at Work

Practical Steps to Foster a Culture of Respect and Eliminate Sexual Harassment

Culture (‘corporate culture‘) is the second area designated by the AHRC to be tested under the Positive Duty. Corporate culture, as defined by Li and Van Der Steen (2021), embodies a group’s shared beliefs, assumptions, values, or preferences that steer their behaviours.

In many respects having a respectful culture is the key element of the new paradigm to address workplace sexual harassment. All the other standards largely reinforce the overarching need to have a culture which does not countenance sexual harassment. In the words of the AHRC Guidelines:

“Culture sets the parameters of what is acceptable and unacceptable”


Fundamental in assessing whether a culture encourages or discourages sexual harassment is the fact that in Australia men are the main perpetrators (77% of harassers are men) and women the main victims (91% of female harassment victims were harassed by a man).

Therefore, the treatment which women receive broadly and in all areas of the organization will provide an indication of whether the culture predisposes to unlawful treatment of women or not.




There are two significant cultural signals which indicate that sexual harassment is unlikely to occur:


A Culture of Civility and Respect for Women


  • Promote a culture of general civility and respect toward all individuals, regardless of gender.
  • Establish a culture where women feel valued and equal contributors to the organisation.



An Organizational Commitment to Address Complaints



  • Create an atmosphere where employees believe the organisation takes complaints seriously.
  • Ensure that complaints lead to effective actions and consequences for the perpetrators.


Studies, including the RAND Military Workplace study in 2021, reveal that when leaders actively combat sexual harassment and exemplify respectful behaviours, reports of harassment decrease. There are countless further examples that support this.

Organisations seeking to assess whether their culture can meet the challenges of the Positive Duty will need to consider:


The Combination of Organic Evolution and Purposeful Design

  • Recognize that culture evolves organically but can also be intentionally shaped.
  • Leaders are pivotal in setting the cultural tone, but every member plays a role in shaping the corporate culture.



Culture Construction Involving Structure, Systems, Leaders, and Employees

  • It’s the collective effort of leaders, employees, and organisational systems that shape culture.
  • Everyone shares the responsibility for culture creation and adaptation when necessary.




The AHRC has set out quite unambiguously the features which it expects to see in organisational cultures which meet the objectives of the Positive Duty.

“Organisations foster a culture that is safe, respectful and inclusive, that values diversity and gender equality.”


For organisations thus to determine whether their culture can withstand scrutiny in the light of the new Positive Duty they need to measure the extent of the diversity in their workforce as well as the levels of inclusion. As an HBR article (May 27, 2021) pointed out both diversity and inclusion are not easily measured but tools have been developed which can effectively do both.

Symmetra has been doing this for some years. Using well-designed focus groups, systemic audits of policy and procedure, gender impact studies, diversity audits and Symmetra’s proprietary Inclusion assessment tools (Enterprise-wide Inclusivity survey, 360 inclusive Leadership Index and Team Inclusion Pulse survey) we have accumulated considerable volumes of data which provide robust benchmarks as a baseline.

With suitable measurement tools available, organisations can set themselves up for early detection of how their culture is faring, what their people are experiencing and whether they are meeting their Positive Duty. And if this is done well, they will also be able to assess if they are positioned to reap the benefits of having a truly diverse and inclusive organization.

In summary, fostering a respectful culture and continuously monitoring its health are pivotal to achieving compliance with AHRC standards, as outlined in the Positive Duty. These standards not only ensure legal compliance but also promote an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, and valued. Culture is the heart of respect at work, and it is within your power to shape it purposefully and proactively.