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Australia's 'blokey' workplaces vow to stamp out everyday sexism

James Fazzino shows Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a mount of urea inside the Brisbane plant.
Incitec Pivot's James Fazzino shows Malcolm Turnbull around the plant where he hopes to stamp out sexism.

AAP: Dan Peled

Some men are oblivious to it but subconscious sexism remains a common and often distressing factor in the workplace, according to a report out today.

In an attempt to stamp out everyday sexism, some of Australia's major employers have pledged to take practical steps to help men know when their attitudes or comments result in prejudice or discrimination.

A study commissioned by Male Champions of Change interviewed 6,000 employees and cites examples of sexism like role stereotyping, insults masquerading as jokes, women's views being devalued, and a preoccupation with physical appearance.

Incitec Pivot chief executive James Fazzino concedes the fertiliser and explosive company could be described as "blokey", but says leadership attitudes have changed dramatically to deal with subconscious sexism.

"A lot of that stuff was the stuff of last century. It's the type of undercurrent that stops women joining our business. And certainly when we look at exit interviews it's one of the reasons women leave," Mr Fazzino told the ABC's AM program.

"Men now see this as an issue when they become aware. And what we've been able to do is double the amount of women in leadership.

"Our largest high explosives site is run by a women, our strategic engineering group is run by a women and our largest distribution centre is run by a woman."

Mr Fazzino says Incitec Pivot has also worked to correct assumptions that having children and careers don't mix.

"We found that assumptions about the roles that were suitable for women and men in our organisation influenced everyday decisions about advancement and promotions and were reinforced by our talent management systems," he said.

"For example, when we've asked our women about their ability to move — which is exactly the same question we'd ask men — we find that women are actually able to take on those roles because that's the role women now play in modern families."

The report also examines the impact of sexism on employees, career advancement and productivity that go to an "often insidious and harmful workplace dynamic".

People don't want to 'rock the boat'

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says everyday sexism remains evident in workplace interactions, systems, policies and decisions in individual careers and organisations as a whole.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Kate Jenkins says people don't raise everyday sexism because they don't want to make a fuss.

ABC News: Alison Branley

"Typically people don't raise it because it can be seen as too small to make a fuss about and few want to be seen to be 'rocking the boat'," Ms Jenkins said.

However, Ms Jenkins says there are cases when men, rather than women, are subjected to everyday sexism because of their stereotypes.

"It was surprising how many men said that when they wanted to take time off with a new born child, their workplaces and their bosses asked if they were really committed to their careers," Ms Jenkins said.

"It doesn't have to be the choice between the two. We know that careers and families can co-exist quite happily."

More than 100 leaders have committed to eliminating everyday sexism including Victoria Police, NAB, Incitec Pivot, the AFL, Medibank Private, La Trobe University, Qantas and AGL.

Follow Peter Ryan on Twitter @peter_f_ryan and on his Main Street blog.