Review finds culture of sexual harassment, sexism at Productivity Commission

An independent review has found a culture of sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination and a failure of leadership at the Productivity Commission.

Incoming Chair Danielle Wood: recommendations accepted

The review was conducted across the government advisory body’s Canberra and Melbourne offices between February 2 and August 1 of this year in response to allegations of sexual harassment and a culture of sexism.

 The report, by consultants Intersection Pty Ltd, says the review uncovered that “a culture of sexism, sexual harassment and other exclusionary inappropriate behaviour including bullying, discrimination and racism existed most predominantly in pockets of the Canberra office of the Commission.”

It says this was largely perpetrated by “a relatively small number of identified individuals”, most of whom has since departed.

“That the culture of inappropriate behaviour was allowed to pervade this workplace for such a long period is an indictment and a result of incidents and bad actors not being effectively managed by leadership,” the report says.

“Regardless of whether intentional or not, it represents a significant failing of management.”

Women warned about Canberra ‘predators’

The report says many of the 26 respondents who participated in the review noted that “the Canberra office has been known for having a permissive culture with respect to sexism and sexual harassment”, and that women from the Melbourne office travelling to Canberra were routinely warned “to watch out for predatory behaviour” by certain individuals.

One review participant reported being subjected to repeated sexism, belittling, humiliation, and verbal abuse, including what she said was  “overt sexist criticisms of female Assistant Commissioners”, including that they were promoted on the basis of their gender rather than merit.

Another participant said a number of women had left the organisation because they were ‘sick of having their intelligence undermined’ and that ‘their views were not received in the same way men’s views were received’.

In the Canberra office in particular, review participants referred to a “blokey culture”  and “masculine aggressive approach to intellectual rigour”.

Commissioners criticised

A small number of particiants raised the conduct of Commissioners during the review, the report says.

“While on the whole, participants considered that Commissioners largely conducted themselves in a respectful and professional manner, there was reference to occasions where Commissioners failed to meet the expected standards of behaviour, akin to bullying and/or verbal harassment.”

The review found lack of diversity, lack of accountability and power imbalances drove the poor behaviour.

It noted that feedback on the leadership of the current Chair Michael Brennan was generally positive.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the commission will undergo “significant workplace reform” in response to the findings of the report.

He said the review focused on events that occurred before 2022.

Incoming Productivity Commission Chair Danielle Wood has agreed to implement all of the report’s 23 recommendations, the Treasurer said.

The Commission will report on its progress in 12 months.

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