Kate Jenkins: 'She held the line when others would have folded'


Women on Boards acknowledges the contribution of former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and the lasting impact her work has had on Australian workplaces and communities.


´╗┐Claire Braund, Executive Director of Women on Boards, said Ms Jenkins' tireless efforts had resulted in new discussions, new approaches and new legislation to address discrimination.

"Her legacy is a reminder that we all need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions towards others and to be mindful in our interactions and behaviours - regardless of whether we are the Prime Minister or a postal clerk," Claire said.

"Kate Jenkins held the line when others would have folded and enabled many to be treated with dignity and respect."

During her seven-year term, Ms Jenkins’ work has responded to national conversations, sparked cultural change, and improved laws, policies, practices and funding to foster greater gender equality and address sexual harassment, particularly in Australian workplaces.

Reflecting on her seven years in the role before her departure, Ms Jenkins said there had been more progress on ending sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces than she had hoped for in that time, but more urgent work needed to be done.

“We need to appreciate that older women are looking towards poverty in their old age ... this is urgent, and if I was continuing that would be a priority,” she told the Australian Financial Review.

Ms Jenkins also acknowledged that despite more women working there was still a gender pay gap problem. “There’s still a pay gap, a gap in superannuation, challenges getting them into senior roles and flexible work, and discrimination,” the former lawyer said.

Ms Jenkins also acknowledged the contributions of people who spoke out against sexual harassment.

“The progress we’ve achieved would not have been possible without the courageous contributions of people who have used their voices to speak out against sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in Australia. Your stories – whether shared generously with the Commission in research projects, or through the news cycle – have sparked important conversations and created a momentum for change. For everyone who has spoken out I know there are many others who have experienced harm and also supported change.”

“Now that the necessary laws are in place, we are on the precipice of change in Australia. What we need now is for businesses to take action to prevent workplace sexual harassment and build more respectful and safe workplace cultures.”

Jenkins’ landmark Respect@Work report, released in 2020, examined the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Last year the Federal Government committed to implementing all 55 recommendations of the report in full, and is currently implementing major changes, including a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.

The Commission’s 2022 National Sexual Harassment Survey Time for Respect showed that 1 in 3 Australian workers said they had experienced sexual harassment at work in the previous 5 years, which will be the benchmark to measure progress of the reforms.

Ms Jenkins’ work has also created a significant cultural shift in Federal Parliament, paving the way for more inclusive and respectful workplaces for parliamentarians and staffers.

The Commission’s Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, led by Commissioner Jenkins, was published in 2021. Since then, the Commission has welcomed news that parliament has introduced behavioural codes of conduct and is making excellent progress on improving workplace culture.

Other highlights of Ms Jenkins’ term have included:

  • Chairing the Respect@Work Council.
  • Leading the Commission’s collaborative partnerships on cultural reform in the Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force.
  • Conducting a national survey on sexual harassment and sexual assault at Australian universities, with findings released in 2017 in the Change the Course report.
  • Working with a range of sporting codes to improve inclusion, including golf, cricket, Australian Rules football, netball and gymnastics.
  • Leading the Commission’s 2019 Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport.
  • Co-chairing Play by the Rules for seven years, a joint project between human rights agencies and sports commissions, which aims to make grass roots sports safe, fair and inclusive

Prior to joining the Commission, Kate spent three years as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, 20 years as lead equal opportunity partner with Herbert Smith Freehills and many years serving on the boards of Berry Street Victoria, Heide Museum of Modern Art and Carlton Football Club.

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