Thursday, 10 September 2015 15:01

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Draft Report finds no place for sexual harassment, bullying and sex discrimination

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission welcomes the release of the Draft Report into discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment in the practice of surgery.

The report, prepared by an External Advisory Group (EAG) and delivered this week to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, reveals a widespread culture of bullying and harassment among surgeons, highlighting gender inequality as a core issue.

Close to 50% of college Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates have reported being subjected to discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

The Draft Report identifies such behaviour as a “pervasive and serious problem in the practice of surgery” in Australia and New Zealand with senior surgeons and surgical consultants the primary source of these problems.

Earlier this year the Commission made a submission to the EAG Issues Paper, contextualised within Victoria’s legal framework and specifically the Equal Opportunity Act, outlining a number of recommendations relating to policy and training as well as addressing the barriers to reporting for both victims and bystanders.

In responding to the Draft Report the Commission is mindful that for any ongoing change to occur organisations need to first know what is going on. The high participation rates in the research indicate that up until the establishment of the EAG many felt unable or fearful of complaining.

The Commission applauds the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) for accepting the draft and recommendations in full and for its prompt apology to all who have suffered discrimination. In response to the report, RACS will prepare and publish an Action Plan by the end of November.

However it is also important that such an opportunity to drive genuine systemic change at cultural level goes well beyond assuming this is the behaviour of a few individuals towards an understanding of the drivers of misbehaviour, the way people are valued and a need to look at prevention.

The Commission is currently undertaking a whole of organisational review with Victoria Police. The review into sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, including predatory behaviour amongst Victoria Police personnel, aims to identify actions and strategies to promote safety and equality within that organisation.

Like the RACS, Victoria Police have first sought to better understand what is going on and why before taking actions for change.

Gender inequality is a challenge facing many organisations. The Commission is hopeful that these high profile internal reviews will prompt other large organisations, and the leaders of those organisations, to proactively examine work practices and training, address abuses of power and authority, eliminate victimisation and reinstate a much needed sense of trust and accountability.

Workplaces are a key site for community and attitudinal change on gender equity and the value of diversity.

A sustained commitment to change is not an option but a necessity.

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