Sexual harassment alive and well in Aussie workplaces

by Stephanie Zillman30 Oct 2012

More than two years on from the landmark David Jones and Kristy Fraser-Kirk $850,000 payout, a new report out from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner shows that sexual harassment is not only widespread in Australian workplaces, but that progress in addressing it has stalled.

At the time of the sexual harassment case against former DJ’s CEO Mark McInnes, Fraser-Kirk said she was confident her settlement would lead to change in the treatment of the issue of sexual harassment.

Yet today’s release of Working without fear: Results of the sexual harassment national telephone survey 2012, showed that two years on, Australian workplaces are no better off. In fact, progress has come to a standstill. “This research is conducted every four years and shows that little has changed,” Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said. “It shows that approximately one in five people aged 15 years and older were sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years, an extraordinary figure.”

Targets of sexual harassment are most likely to be women under 40 and harassers are most likely to be male co-workers. Women are at least five times more likely than men to have been harassed by a boss or employer. Men harassing women accounts for more than half of all sexual harassment, while male harassment of men accounts for nearly a quarter.

Commissioner Broderick said that one of the most encouraging parts of the research concerned the role of bystanders. “Fifty-one per cent of people who were bystanders – that is over half - took some action to prevent or reduce the harm of the sexual harassment they were aware of,” she said. “Bystanders have an extremely important role to play in confronting and combatting sexual harassment.”

Commissioner Broderick added that bystanders can help to prevent and reduce the harm of sexual harassment and ensure safe work environments for themselves and their colleagues, but they needed to be supported and empowered, which would mean a huge shift in organisational culture. “Eradicating sexual harassment from our workplaces will require leadership and a genuine commitment from everyone – government, employers, employer associations, unions and employees.”


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