Wednesday, 27 September 2017 07:57

Opinion piece: Police bold but equality fight not over

To be a member of the police is to be in the business of respect. Police seek to ensure that citizens respect the law, each other and our right to live in safety. Their role is predicated on mutual respect: without the respect of community members, the police risk losing legitimacy and trust. We expect our police to role model the kinds of attitudes and behaviours that they expect from the community. We want a force that walks the talk.

Back in 2015, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission carried out an independent review of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Victoria Police and found that respect – in particular, respect for women – was something that was sorely lacking within the organisation. We peeled back the layers on an organisation where sexist attitudes and behaviours were the norm; where women were bullied, harassed and discriminated against, and where women weren’t given a fair go to get ahead in the organisation.

Our findings were based on the largest survey of its kind in the world, dozens of confidential interviews with people who had experienced or witnessed harm, and extensive data from within the organisation. For community members, it called into question whether police were worthy of our trust and, indeed, respect. It takes courage to open up your organisation to external scrutiny.

When then Chief Commissioner Ken Lay commissioned the review, he did so knowing that the organisation’s underbelly would be put under the microscope. He did so because he knew that an issue this pervasive could not be examined from the inside. He did it because he wanted Victoria Police to role model the kind of respect for women that is central to combating family violence. He knew that gender equality will create a more capable organisation that can better meet the challenges and demands of policing into the future.

That leadership has continued under Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, who back in December 2015 apologised to past and present employees for the harm that had taken place in his organisation. He committed to implementing all 20 recommendations from our review, and over the last 20 months he has maintained the momentum and focus that is required to bring about transformational change.

Yesterday we launched an audit that examines Victoria Police’s progress towards creating a more inclusive, safe and capable organisation. We will continue to work with Victoria Police and undertake a further audit in 2018, looking at what change has occurred as a result of the reforms.

In this audit, we observed significant progress towards building the necessary systems and structures to embed gender equality across all aspects of the organisation. Early work has commenced to encourage greater uptake of flexible work arrangements, including an organisation-wide commitment to 'all roles flex' and the creation of backfill capacity for pregnant sworn officers. Training is being designed for all employees to better understand the drivers and impact of workplace harm, and to help build safer and more inclusive workplaces. A 50:50 recruitment target has been set, and an expectation of 50:50 across promotions and transfers and development opportunities has been articulated. Extensive data is now being captured, which go towards ensuring a relentless focus on progress.

About one in every 200 Victorians of a working age are employed by Victoria Police. I want that organisation to use its enormous footprint in the community to role model the kinds of behaviours and attitudes we need to build a safe, inclusive society. I want a police force with the diversity of thought, skills and experience that is required to keep all of our community safe.

There will be those who say that Victoria Police should focus on its core business: this is their core business. Over half of our population identify as women and they deserve to be able to trust our police and to be treated with dignity and respect. We need the most capable, compassionate and talented men and women to join Victoria Police to do the critical work that they do in making our community a more cohesive and safe place to live. We want to see women join the police and we want to see them stay, thrive and lead – not in a way that conforms to masculine stereotypes but as themselves. In 2017 being a woman should be seen as a virtue, not a disadvantage.

What Victoria Police is doing is bold and, in many ways, world leading. We should applaud them for their progress to date and we should demand that they continue with unwavering commitment – for all of our sake. 

Kristen Hilton, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner

Published in the Herald Sun, as "Victoria Police equality battle is not over yet", 27 September 2017

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