Workplace discrimination – should women suffer in silence?

Libs leader tells women to ignore discrimination

Updated May 23, 2012 11:16:02

South Australian Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond says women facing sexual discrimination in the workplace should just ignore it and get on with their jobs.

Ms Redmond told a women’s leadership forum in Adelaide on Monday that those facing bias on gender grounds were better off avoiding confrontation.

A member of the audience asked the Liberal leader how young women should best deal with discrimination against them.

At the end of a detailed answer, Ms Redmond said:

“I think it’s easier a lot of time to just try to ignore the discrimination and get on with being the best councillor you can be or the best whatever it is and, as I say, ask intelligent questions and make gentle suggestions and I think you’ll find gradually the discrimination will disappear.”

On ABC Radio this morning the Ms Redmond defended her comments and reaffirmed her views.

She said her experiences as a young lawyer and councillor taught her that legal action is rarely the best response to discrimination at work.

“I have generally in my life taken the view that the best way to deal with discrimination is to simply be good at the job that you’re doing and do the best you can,” she said.

“I think that does more to break down the barriers of the sorts of people who would subject you to discrimination.

“In 40 years in the law, I’d have to say that by and large, those who avoid the legal path often are better off.”

Ms Redmond said more had been done to achieve gender equality in the workplace by women who put up with discrimination.

“I think a lot of the time the hard yards is done by not looking at it as your own personal situation but rather that by taking the line that you’ll do the best you can, to do the best job you can, you do help to break down the barriers for the next woman that comes along,” she said.

“Whereas if you take that legal approach, then very likely all you’ll do is entrench the hatred of women in the very people whose minds you’re trying to change.

“I wasn’t trying to say that forever and ever there’s never an occasion when it’s appropriate.

“But she asked me for my advice as a young councillor. It happened that I’d been a young councillor on a male-dominated council.”

Ms Redmond was careful to point out that she believes sexual harassment is an entirely separate issue.

“Sexual harassment and bullying are different from the sort of gender discrimination I was talking about,” she said.

“I think there’s different aspects of bullying and sexual harassment that may well mean you need to take action and use the law.”

AUDIO:   Isobel Redmond tells women to ignore sexual discrimination

Out of context

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill cautioned against an overreaction to Ms Redmond’s comments.

“As I understand Ms Redmond’s remarks, she was being asked a question by a particular woman in a particular circumstance about what she should do and she provided some advice,” he said.

“I really think that each of these cases need to be look at on their merits.

“What’s right for one woman might not be right for another so I think it does depend on the individual cases.”

He said the comments should not be taken out of context.

“To the extent that people are taking from Ms Redmond’s remarks that somehow it’s ok for women to be discriminated against in the workplace or anywhere else well I think that’s unfortunate,” he said.

“I don’t agree with that and I’m sure she doesn’t agree with that either.”

‘Suffer in silence’

Elizabeth Handsley, a professor of law at Flinders University, says it is surprising that a female political leader would make the remarks.

“I’m sure they’re very well meant, but they do send a message to young women that people should suffer in silence and let people get away with things that are actually unlawful,” she said.

“That might be a choice some women may want to make in some circumstances, but I find it unusual that a prominent female would see that as the preferred option.

“It also shows a fundamental understanding of what discrimination is.

“Discrimination is failure to recognise a person’s worth as a worker and a focus on other issues that are irrelevant to the person’s worth as a worker, so it’s very, very difficult to believe that one can just break through by keep on being a good worker.

“The whole point is you’re not being noticed as a good worker. That’s why you’re being discriminated against.”

But Professor Handsley says the way a woman responds to discrimination is a personal choice.

“Legal action is a proper avenue, but I think there may be situations where a woman would want to make that call, where she would think it would do me more a harm than good to take action in this particular circumstance,” she said.

“In the vast majority of circumstances I would suggest there is something to be gained from calling people to account for their behaviour.”

Different view

Vicki Chapman, the state Opposition’s spokeswoman for the status of women, has distanced herself from the remarks.

“Isobel of course can have her view about how she’s advised somebody, she’s identified her own past experience, that is a matter for the leader to identify,” she said.

“We are very clear; Liberal Party policy is to maintain the anti-discrimination law which we were proud to have introduced.

“Isobel and I both agree that discrimination against women is unacceptable. We do have a legal process. It is an important one.”

In a statement, the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, says behaviour and attitudes will not change if women do not complain about discrimination.

First posted May 23, 2012 08:48:58


One thought on “Workplace discrimination – should women suffer in silence?

  1. I agree with Ms Redmond. Over 30 years ago I started working in a male dominated industry first as a Tipper Truck driver and later as a Project Manager and Overseer on Civil Engineering and Construction projects. If you do good work, men respect you has been my experience. Any descrimination I suffered came from Women not men.
    30 years on, little has changed. Of course there are exceptions but most men respect a woman who knows her stuff. On many occasions I have seen women cry discrimination when their work just wasn’t that good. I get heartily sick of the whole issue. Men discriminate against other men too. I believe gender is seldom, or far less often, the real issue. More likely a personality clash.
    I think Ms Redmond has been misunderstood. She counselled against taking legal recourse on the basis of the experience being unpleasant and risky for the complainant… Not ignoring the problem. For the individual discriminated against there are simply more productive options than an adversarial approach that will take a lot of energy and may get you nowhere. There are always other jobs out there for a talented person. Let the discriminator be the loser I say… Isn’t losing the contribution of a really talented person the best justice?

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