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Discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment: where next for medical leadership?

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Sexual harassment, the perceived career damage that can result from reporting such behaviour, and inconsistent standards of response by medical colleges and health services hit the headlines in early 2015.1 A background briefing paper published by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) in June 2015,2 as well as several articles in this issue of the Journal36 confirm these concerns are real.

Discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment (DBSH) occur in many workplace environments internationally, despite having been prohibited by law for decades. Trainees, medical students and female staff and colleagues are identified as the most likely targets. Proceduralists are particularly likely to offend. Some offenders unwittingly reproduce behaviours they have learned from role models of previous generations. Others are more deliberate or determined perpetrators, often with a reputation for misbehaviour that frequently goes unchecked. Observers who are aware of such behaviour may be covictims or coperpetrators, or both. Hospitals and professional associations sometimes foster a culture of abuse through covert sanctions against complainers, or by providing tacit approval by failing to act or by discouraging change.

There is little doubt of the perception among medical students…