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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It is behaviour a reasonable person would think could make the person on the receiving end feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Working without Fear: Results of the Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey 2012
The recently released results of the Australian Human Rights Commission research into Sexual Harassment indicates that this form of harassment is wide-spread in Australian workplaces.
Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner says that the report shows that we have not managed to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment over the past five years since previous research was undertaken.

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It is behaviour a reasonable person would think could make the person on the receiving end feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is often frightening. It is also unlawful.

Who is sexually harassed?

A diverse range of people across a broad spectrum of occupations, workplaces and industries are affected by sexual harassment. In the past five years, more than one in five people aged over 15 have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The targets of sexual harassment are most likely to be women under 40, and the 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 account for more than half of all sexual harassment, while male harassment of men accounts for nearly a quarter.

Alarmingly victimisation and negative treatment of people who have made a formal complaint of sexual harassment has also increased. Underlying all of this is a very low level of understanding of which types of behaviours constitute sexual harassment.

Creating change

While this picture may be gloomy, there are a small number of positives and indications that some changes are occurring. When formal reports and complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace are made, they are mostly resolved quickly and the complainants are very satisfied with the process and the outcome. It is also encouraging that individuals who have witnessed or subsequently learned about sexual harassment in their workplace are found to mostly take action to prevent or reduce the harm of harassment.

As a witness or bystander, taking action means that you are helping to mould safe work environments for yourself and well as for your colleagues.

Changes in organisational culture

While taking action at an individual level is invaluable, a substantial shift in organisational culture is also required. Organisations can achieve this through providing their employees with a solid understanding of what sexual harassment is, and of their rights and obligations in the workplace. It is important for organisations to create workplaces where their employees feel supported when making complaints and feel confident that employers will deal with their complaints effectively, efficiently and responsibly.

It is of benefit to employers to reduce the harm of sexual harassment that can ruin lives, divide teams and damage the overall effectiveness of their organisation.

If you would like to speak to one of our Corporate Team Members regarding sexual harassment you have experienced or have witnessed, or if you are an employer who would like support to develop an effective and healthy culture within your organisation, please contact Diana.

Source: ‘The Australian’ 30 October 2012. Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner

If you would like to learn more about  Sexual Harrasment in the Workplace or would like to make an appointment  please contact us.