One of Australia's top female political leaders has told young women facing sex discrimination at work to ignore it and it will "just disappear".
South Australian Liberal Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond offered her advice on how to handle sex discrimination in the workplace, including avoiding taking action under the law, during a women's leadership function in Adelaide.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick rejected Ms Redmond's suggestions, saying that if complaints were not lodged, behavioural change would not take place.
And federal Minister for the Status of Women Julie Collins said Ms Redmond's comments were unacceptable.
At a gathering of about 150 women at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia event on Monday, audience member Sophia MacRae, 39, told Ms Redmond that after being elected in 2010 to the Norwood Council in Adelaide's eastern suburbs, and through her work with not-for-profit lobby group the Bicycle Institute, she "feels there is some inequality there".
"What would be your advice for a younger woman dealing with that, when it's not just the fact that your older colleagues have more experience but you can sense that there is a little bit of discrimination involved as well?" she said.
Ms Redmond, 59, told the gathering to take the easy path and ignore discrimination.
"I think it is easier a lot of the 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 ask intelligent questions and make gentle suggestions, and I think you'll find the discrimination will just disappear," she said.
Relating tales of her years as a councillor and lawyer, Ms Redmond said women were best served avoiding confrontation or legal avenues to remedy situations of sex discrimination.
"Listen a lot and, rather than talking a lot, ask lots of questions, preferably intelligent questions, to get the discussion to go the way you want it," she said.
"I don't think there's any much point in confrontation. There were laws at that time about discrimination but I took the view that I was going to come out the loser if I tried to use those laws against the behemoth of this organisation and someone in a very senior position. So I left and got another job."
The audio of Ms Redmond's address to the luncheon on Monday was posted on the CEDA website yesterday afternoon.
Ms Broderick said she understood women feared complaints could adversely affect their careers.
"However, I don't agree that women shouldn't seek legal redress," Ms Broderick said.
"Without a critical mass of complaints being lodged, behavioural changes will not take place, attitudes will not change and sex discrimination will not be reduced."
Ms MacRae, who is studying for a master of sustainability at the University of Adelaide, said gender discrimination should not be ignored, although she acknowledged Ms Redmond was talking about a very difficult issue for women.
"There are gender issues which are not obvious and it's not something you can put in a code of conduct . . . it's more about relationships and it's difficult for women to know how to deal with this," Ms MacRae said.
"She (Redmond) gave good advice, which is that we need to be very smart. Most women would understand the gender issue because we are more aware of it because of the situation historically and we're working hard to change that. But I would not put up with workplace bullying or discrimination that can be identified and pursued along the legal pathways we have."
The mother-of-three, a Greens supporter, said it was becoming easier for women to be treated on merit in the workplace and not put up with discrimination.
"If there is blatant discrimination then there are laws to deal with that and there are processes and no one should put up with it," Ms MacRae said.
Ms Collins said gender discrimination in the workplace was "not something anyone should have to ignore or simply put up with". "It's unacceptable that anyone leaving their job should be seen as the best solution to workplace discrimination."
She urged women who believed they had suffered discrimination to seek advice and report it.
"As hard as it can be to speak out against entrenched prejudices, we as a community do need to stand up against discrimination," she said.
Ms Redmond last night stood by her remarks.
Source: The Australian