Bystander training needed in legal profession to help prevent harassment

Ensuring all lawyers have the skills and confidence to call out sexual harassment even when it does not directly impact them will reduce the incidence of harassment and bullying in the legal profession, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), as the organisation launches its new gender equality policy today.

“While many legal organisations do provide staff training to prevent bullying and harassment, we think it is valuable to take a step further and provide bystander intervention training to help everyone build the confidence and skills to call out unacceptable behaviour,” said Mr Graham Droppert, National President, ALA.

“Law firms also need specific policies that outline responsibilities and protections for active bystanders. This will provide the necessary support and protection for bystanders who call out sexual harassment.

“We need to ensure that bystanders are prevented from being victimised when they speak out.

“It is a tremendous loss to the legal profession when intelligent, capable women end their legal careers due to sexual harassment and a professional culture that does not enable them, or others, to call out the problem behaviour.”

The ALA has launched a gender equality policy designed to encourage members to actively promote the role of women in the legal profession and to call out discriminatory and abusive conduct. It will also help to create opportunities for women to progress in the profession, and assume leadership roles both within the ALA and more broadly.

“I think we are all disappointed that as a profession we have not taken sufficient measures to prevent abuses of power,” said Mr Droppert. “Incidents this year have highlighted the importance of having practical policies in place to ensure that women are provided with equal opportunity, and to prevent sexual harassment and bullying.

“There has been progress in the profession. When the ALA was formed in 1995 only 16 per cent of our members were female. Women now make up 50 per cent of our membership and many women hold leadership roles in the organisation.

“We need the senior people in our profession to call out bad behaviour when they see it – it can no longer be overlooked or ‘swept under the carpet’. I hope that, as a result of the public discussion this year, we will see a significant cultural shift in the profession.”

Read the ALA’s gender equality policy here: https://www.lawyersalliance.com.au/documents/item/1990

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