A new survey on workplace sexual harassment has found that almost 75% of Australian women who complained to their employer were not satisfied with the outcome, with more than one in three saying they were ignored and no action was taken.
A ReachTEL poll on behalf of Shine Lawyers surveyed 3677 Australian women over the age of 18 between August 16-17 2018 and found that 19% of women have been sexually harassed at work. Only one in five make a complaint, and of those, 18.2% decided to resign with no job to go to afterwards.
“It is very worrying to see so many women, who have been brave enough to come forward and report harassment to their employer, unhappy with the outcome,” Shine Lawyers Employment Law expert Will Barsby says. “We can’t allow this to continue in Australian workplaces.”
The leading reasons women don’t make complaints include because they’re concerned the incident isn’t bad enough to warrant it, they are worried about job security or they’re afraid they won’t be believed.
“Women are being forced to make very difficult decisions about their personal safety versus the need for job security and earning a wage,” Barsby says. “Almost a quarter didn’t make an official complaint because they were worried about losing their job, which puts them in a very vulnerable position.”
The survey found that one in four female victims of sexual harassment in the workplace were aged over 51, making them more vulnerable to harassment than younger workers aged 18-34.
“Older workers are more likely to have financial pressures which mean keeping their jobs becomes more important than a safe workplace,” Barsby says. “They might have mortgages, children in school or be a carer to a loved one like an ageing parent. These things can make a secure wage a priority despite the personal risks.”
Almost half of the incidents of harassment were perpetrated by either a boss or a supervisor, indicating that power — and vulnerability — remain critical factors.
The findings were released on Tuesday evening in Sydney at an event hosted by Now Australia and Shine Lawyers. Shine’s ambassador, the activist and women’s rights campaigner Erin Brockovich, presented in support of NOW and described #MeToo as the movement she has been waiting her whole life for.
Brockovich said in her experience, hitting employers in the hip-pocket for doing the wrong thing is the most effective way to ensure change is delivered.
“There needs to be a proactive campaign by employers to ensure there is proper education of their staff about what is appropriate in the workplace,” Barsby said. “Creating policies and procedures that are enforced will build a culture of safety and security for female workers. Prevention is key.”
Barsby said new laws ought to mandate that employers report incidents of harassment under workplace health and safety provisions. But he also offered some practical advice for anyone who has — or is — experiencing harassment:
“There are some minor steps you can take to leave a ‘paper trail’ about workplace sexual harassment if it is safe to do so:
- Talk to a work friend or colleague;
- Talk to a family member;
- Report it (email); or
- Talk to a GP.”
As Now Australia’s founder Tracey Spicer noted, the onus to have harassment addressed shouldn’t sit on the individuals adversely affected but the reality is this change needs to be driven from the bottom up.
It is clear employers need to do a lot more and manage harassment a lot better.
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