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In 2012, the University of Melbourne Centre for Ethical Studies produced a report entitled Resilience: Women’s Fit Functioning and Growth at Work: Indicators and Predictors. At the time it was published as part of the Gender Equality Project.

The report aimed to:

“analyse indicators that are typically considered when assessing gender diversity strategies and then analyse the personal and organisational factors that predict these different outcomes.” [1]

The report is detailed, comprehensive and made five recommendations for improving gender equality in organisations.

Of these five recommendations, there was one that resonated for me quite strongly. Recommendation number 4 read as follows:

“Target low-level sexism through a range of strategies, such as a “no just joking” policy.”

In the discussion of this recommendation [2], the paper highlights how low-level sexism through jokes makes women feel uncomfortable and that they do not belong or are not welcome.  When challenged, perpetrators of this behaviour would respond by saying they were “just joking” as if this made their behaviour acceptable because it was just a bit of fun with no harm intended.

The problem is there is harm committed.

Firstly, this kind of behaviour creates a “stereotype threat” which increases the potential for bias (perceived or real, conscious or non-conscious) in those making the jokes. 

Secondly, the study found, there are negative impacts on women’s health and retention. Retention is important because when women leave an organisation, they take away the unique skill sets they offer as individuals, and this impacts the capability of the organisation.

It would seem, on the surface, a straightforward idea to create a “no just joking policy”. The report recommends the simple act of an apology, when challenged, should be enough to resolve this behaviour at a low level before it escalates.

I will leave the final comment on this matter to the report writers:

“…the point needs to be made that the loss of one source of humour is not the death of humour. It merely indicates that it is time to learn a few new jokes.”


  1. Page 6
  2. Page 20