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Students work with industry sponsors to tackle ‘wicked problems’ of workplace discrimination and harassment

2 March, 2023

Students presented innovative and practical proposals to increase workplace respect, inclusion and diversity at an event at the McCusker Centre for Citizenship at UWA last week, after working with expert industry sponsors through January and February in the uniquely collaborative Approaches to Wicked Problems unit.

Audra Bintarti, Rahul Sridhar, Sara Munro and Vy Huynh Mai worked as a group on a project aimed at sexual harassment prevention, with the support of project sponsors, Elke Taylor and Adelaide Follington from the Department of Communities.  Their proposal included an app concept called LogSafe.

“Everyone in the group was really committed to finding solutions to the problem, and to having a positive impact on the problem of sexual harassment in workplaces,” said Audra.

“The LogSafe app concept is innovative because nothing of that kind currently exists

“There is hesitancy of people to report sexual harassment, and this app could be a discrete way to log, and possibly report, incidents,” she said.

Audra explained that an important characteristic of the app would be that it wasn’t linked to any government agency, with the information logged by users to remain their private intellectual property. The app could act as a digital diary; if action needed to be taken to stop ongoing sexual harassment, the logs in the app could show patterns of problematic behaviour.

After speaking to the WorkSafe Commissioner, Darren Kavangh, the group also realised that education was key to driving the kind of cultural change necessary to combat sexual harassment.

The app could also provide accessible resources to help people recognise sexual harassment that often goes unreported.

“A small solution is still a solution; in this unit we had opportunity, were given resources, and met people that could help make our ideas happen in real time,” Audra said.

Adelaide Follington, one of two project sponsors from the Department of Communities who worked with Audra’s group, said that sexual harassment remains a pervasive problem in all workplaces across Australia, regardless of industry, size or location.

“Partnerships with universities to support bold thinking and innovation is a central component of the State Government’s commitment to achieving a shared vision of workplace safety and respect for all Western Australian employees,” she said.

Four other groups proposed their ideas from the Wicked Problems unit, including proposals for an accessible and safe website that streamlines access to sexual harassment resources for workers in the mining industry, a social media and resource campaign for young people in rural, regional and remote communities, a resource to assist pro-bono lawyers identify and manage vicarious trauma, and accessible resources on sexual harassment and work rights for workers with disabilities.

Unit coordinator Dr. Cathy Martin said although they were all tackling different projects, there was a lot of synergy between the groups’ proposals.

“The students produced an incredible bundle of resources that have the potential to make a real impact on harassment and discrimination that exists in the workforce,” she said.

The unit connected students with sponsors from Circle Green Community Legal, the Department of Communities, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Law Access, and Sussex St Community Law Service, who helped students engage with the issues and provided expert guidance in the development of their solutions.

Approaches to Wicked Problems, which was first offered in 2020 at the McCusker Centre for Citizenship at UWA, brings together civic-minded students and project sponsors from organisations that work day-to-day on social challenges in the community, and has produced new approaches to help address problems including homelessness and modern slavery.