3 ways to create a harassment-free zone at Rotary

Katey Halliday

By Katey Halliday

We have no place for harassment in Rotary. People won’t join or stay if they are exposed to harassment.

Rotary’s policy on maintaining a harassment-free environment at meetings, events, and activities makes it clear that harassment will not be tolerated. It even stipulates that all Rotary leaders, including club presidents, shall be provided with annual training on Rotary International’s policies on the topic.

But is it just up to leaders to ensure that Rotary is a harassment-free zone? Of course not. It takes each one of us to create and maintain a culture that does not condone, ignore, or excuse harassment. 

  1. Educate yourself

Harassment is broadly defined as any conduct, verbal or physical, that denigrates, insults, or offends a person or group based on any characteristic (age, ethnicity, race, colour, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientations, or gender identity). (Rotary Code of Policies 26.120)

There is nothing in this definition about intention. None of us are immune to unwittingly engaging in behaviour which could be viewed as harassment. The fact that it might have been ‘just a joke’ is no excuse.

It is not the job of victims of harassment to educate us, we must educate ourselves. The more aware we are about the diversity of the communities we serve, the less likely we are to inadvertently offend someone.

And if we do get called out, we must not get defensive, but reflect, learn and change our behaviour. 

  1. Educate others

When we hear or see something that is not OK, we must have the courage to do something about it. There are many ways to be an active bystander, but the key is to do something. Here are some ideas:

    • Interrupt the inappropriate conversation by changing the subject.
    • Call out offensive comments by drawing attention to it not being OK.
    • Provide support to someone who feels they have experienced harassment. Make sure they know they aren’t alone or overreacting.
    • Challenge the behaviour of the person/group responsible but be sure to challenge the behaviour and not the person. (“you’re a creep” vs “that joke you told was creepy” will prompt very different responses)
    • Seek advice from someone you trust about what to do.
    • Report the behaviour through the appropriate channels. 
  1. Educate your club

Use your Rotary club meetings to foster meaningful discussion about diversity and inclusion on one of the topics outlined in this blog post. This could include approaching a large business or organisation to share their experiences of creating harassment-free workplaces.

This kind of conversation is common in workplaces recognising not only the risks associated with failing to adequately address harassment, but the benefits of creating safe, respectful, and inclusive work environments.

You can also review Rotary’s Preventing and Addressing Harassment course in the Learning Center (My Rotary log-in required).

Ultimately, creating a harassment-free zone at Rotary is about creating a culture of respect and inclusivity. While culture change can take time, it’s worth it if we want to ensure the sustainability of our clubs by ensuring they attract and retain a diverse range of members.

Have thoughts about this topic? Share them below.

About the author: Katey Halliday is currently serving as a member of Rotary International’s inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. She is a past president and charter member of the Adelaide City Rotaract Club and a member of the Rotary Club of Adelaide Light. She has also served as a team leader, coordinator, and trainer for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). She is a project officer and training facilitator in the Diversity and Inclusion Branch of the South Australia Police.

7 thoughts on “3 ways to create a harassment-free zone at Rotary

  1. I know a person who was accused of sexual harassment and was terminated of his role from Rotary District but the Rotary Club of which he is a member is still having him as a member of his club. Is there any sort of intervention from RI in this kind of scenario?


  2. Thank you Katie. A great article. I presented a session on this topic recently to our club members and they found it very interesting. And yes, we still ‘inadvertently’ make comments every now and then and need to be called out on them.


  3. Congratulations on a great article Katey. It has hit a raw nerve with me because when I spoke up and challenged I was ostracised and bullied. Like you I worked for a Law Enforcement Agency but introduced these policies 30 years ago. So I am surprised that today Rotary leaders just do not understand them. I quoted you in my Diversity, Equity and Inclusion article which is in the December/January edition of Rotary Downunder. I think education is the only way to overcome these problems but some Leaders are just not listening. It makes me wonder if they were asleep at PETS training.


    • Thanks Anne Maree. Speaking up is hard and victimisation is never ok. I think you are right, that education is key. People won’t be able to remain ignorant forever. Congrats on your article in RDU as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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