Fired Up

Why Alisha Aitken-Radburn Chose To Speak Out Against Toxic Workplace Culture At Parliament House

At least half of all women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or violence. That’s 1 in 2 that has been sexually harassed, 1 in 3 that has been physically abused and 1 in 5 that has been sexually abused. Let that sink in. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue with the goal of dismantling gendered violence in Australia.
Like many women across the country, Alisha Aitken-Radburn has watched the Brittany Higgins story and other allegations of sexual harassment in Australian parliament emerge over the past year, and been reminded of her own uncomfortable experiences while working in politics.
The former contestant of The Bachelor and Bachelor In Paradise, who worked as a political advancer (a staffer who ensures campaigns roll out without a hitch) for former Labor leader Bill Shorten's 2016 election campaign, doesn't shy away from speaking about sexism and inequality in her podcast In The House and In The Senate, which spotlights the experiences of women working in Aussie politics.
"I think that sexism and misogyny are pervasive throughout society and amplified in politics," Aitken-Radburn told Refinery29 Australia. "Parliament House is not a nice environment for a young woman."
The 28-year-old previously opened up about her own experiences on Abbie Chatfield's It's A Lot podcast, citing the time an unnamed male politician made inappropriate comments about a social media photo in which she was holding an ice cream cone. She also referred to another incident which she said "is still in [her] mind" and one she "wrestle[s] with...every day".
"One thing that happened to me that sat me with me in these months while I've been watching all of the news come to light and the bombardments of stories was when I was working on a federal election campaign, there was drinking involved, no consent training, obviously, and I felt that I did not have the capacity to consent and I feel that someone took advantage of that," she said. "And that was in a work setting."
Aitken-Radburn told Refinery29 Australia that she's joined the many women who have contributed to the Jenkins Review, an independent inquiry into workplace culture at Parliament House led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins
The aim of the review is to understand the experiences of former and current parliament workers, and to then "consider recommendations to ensure that the people who work in parliamentary workplaces are treated with dignity and respect and have access to clear and effective mechanisms to prevent and address bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault."
"In my case, it was a Zoom call," Aitken-Radburn explained the way in which she delivered feedback for the inquiry.
"But you could also do an in-person interview, and you can just share your experiences. When I was bombarded with all this media, it makes you reflect on your own experiences and some upsetting thoughts of your own experience."
The podcast host said in 2021 there's particularly been "a lot of pressure on women to disclose their own trauma in order to keep the momentum and pressure on the government", but she hopes the onus won't always be on victims to have to expose themselves and come forward to enable systemic change.
"It was really good to have an outlet [via the review] where women could share their experiences, and hopefully that will result in recommendations that promote change in parliament as a workplace that doesn't rely on women disclosing really traumatic events," she said.
"I'm really, really excited to see what recommendations come out of the report."
But Aitken-Radburn wants to remind people her podcast is just as much about honing in on some of the positive achievements and contributions of women in Aussie politics as it is about exposing its problematic workplace culture.
"Of course there are bad eggs [in politics] like there is any industry or sector, but I knew that I knew that there were really good people and their intentions for running for government and becoming elected were actually really sound and they really wanted to make a genuine difference in the world," she said.
"So I think I wanted to reflect that story and the good works that's done by politicians day-today in a media format, and I felt like the best way to do that was through conversations."
During the first season, she released episodes featuring interviews with the likes of Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and Linda Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives.
In season 2, which is sponsored by Plan International Australia, she's interviewed Greens Senator Larissa Waters and has an upcoming episode featuring Labor MP, Dr Anne Aly, Australia's first female federal parliamentarian of Islamic faith.
If you're still looking a reason to tune in, Aitken-Radburn says that the podcast fills a gap in the market for stimulating female-led political chat.
"I've realised that there are not many pieces of media out there where it's two women, deconstructing a topic and deconstructing a policy area," she said.
"I've really enjoyed just sitting down and having policy discussions with another woman."
Tune in to In The House and In The Senate here.
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