Reaction - widespread concern raised over pervasive workplace harassment

Analysis

Reaction - widespread concern raised over pervasive workplace harassment

Findings in the national sexual harassment survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission that sexual harassment is widespread and pervasive in the workplace has raised concerns in the political and civil society sectors.

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Findings in the national sexual harassment survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission that sexual harassment is widespread and pervasive in the workplace has raised concerns in the political and civil society sectors. 

According to the report, 72% of Australians have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives; while, in the last 12 months, 23% of women and 16% of men experienced sexual harassment at work.
A number of public figures voiced their concerns.

A problem that affects millions of Australians


Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins commented that: “Sexual harassment is a problem that affects millions of Australians, particularly in our workplaces. The survey results highlight that this is an issue that affects both women and men… these figures are unacceptable and have increased significantly since the last survey in 2012… the findings are more timely and relevant today than ever before, with the huge surge in public concern about sexual harassment generated by the #MeToo movement and the willingness of people to say that, they too, have been affected”.

“We know from our research that many people are afraid to report their experiences of unwelcome sexual conduct out of fear that they won’t be believed, that it’s not worth it, that they’ll be ostracised and that it could damage their career. It’s also worrying that almost half of those who did make a formal report said that nothing changed at their organisation, as a result of the complaint. Unwelcome sexual conduct on this scale in the workplace not only causes distress to workers and colleagues, it impacts workplace productivity and impedes career progression, which has an economic impact on businesses and families,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

An end to sexual harassment


Several federal members of the Australian Labor Party also released a joint statement. Tanya Plibersek (deputy leader of the opposition) along with shadow ministers Linda Burney , Carol Brown, and Louise Pratt called for an end to sexual harassment. 

“The Australian Human Rights Commission Report into Sexual Harassment in Australia shows that cultural and societal change is needed in every sector, at every level, to end sexual harassment. The report made some very sobering findings which illustrate the prevalence and pervasiveness of sexual harassment. It really is an epidemic. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees. They have a responsibility to ensure staff and colleagues are able to seek support, and that inappropriate behaviour is properly addressed. Sexual harassment does not need to involve malice or ill-intent. No sexual harassment should be “part of the job”, or dismissed as “just a joke” or “compliment”. Every sector – from retail and hospitality, to corporate boardrooms, media, and government – everyone should be free of harassment in their workplace,” the Labor Party politicians said. 

They stated that the party’s National Strategy for Gender Equality identifies preventing sexual harassment as a key national priority.

Employers do not want sexual harassment in their workplaces


Advocates for corporate Australia also voiced their concern. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that new data reporting Australians' experiences of sexual harassment at work raises concern.

“Australian employers do not want sexual harassment in their workplaces,” Australian Chamber CEO, James Pearson, said. “Businesses and their leaders recognize their responsibility to drive good behaviour and the importance of people in their workforce understanding what is expected. It is everyone’s responsibility to act appropriately at work. Employers need to be supported to create and sustain workplace cultures where it is clear sexual harassment is not tolerated and where there will be consequences for those breaching policies and expectations of acceptable conduct in the workplace.

“Everyone in the workplace has an individual responsibility to refrain from sexual harassment. Employers tell us they need our workplace laws to better back them to deal with offending behaviour. To be effective, it is important that recommendations arising from the inquiry are practical and able to be implemented across a diverse range of business environments, including small businesses,” Mr Pearson said. 

Disclosure: the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and WorkplaceInfo.com.au are affiliated entities via the NSW Business Chamber, which owns this publication. 

 
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