2 min read

This serious problem now affects one in three Australian workers

By Michael Selinger

Roy Morgan Research, on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, recently conducted a national survey to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of workplace sexual harassment in Australia.

The results are damning.

Sexual harassment is still a major problem in Australian workplaces.

The findings of the survey, conducted between April and June this year, were released by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins at the National Press Club in Canberra last week.

Important findings included:

  • One in three workers in Australia said that they had been sexually harassed at work over the last five years, compared with one in five from the 2012 survey and one in ten in 2003.
  • The conduct begins the moment people enter the workplace, and that harassers prey on those less powerful than them.
  • Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 were the most likely to be sexually harassed at work.
  • 39% of Australian women and 26% of Australian men reported being sexually harassed at work in the past five years which was a significant increase from 2012.
  • Four out of every five harassers in the workplace were men.

The survey also reported on harassment endemic within certain industries. For example, four out of five people working in information, media and telecommunications reported being sexually harassed.

Regrettably, formal reporting of workplace sexual harassment remained low, with only 17% of people in the survey confirming that they had made a report or complaint about the behaviour. And out of those that made a formal report, disappointingly almost half stated that there was no change made by the organisation as a result of the complaint.

The outcome of this survey was the initiative for the Australian Human Rights Commission to launch a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

This inquiry, which has received $500,000 in federal funding, will begin public consultations later this month.

The inquiry follows the release of a report last year by the Commission in which a national survey of more than 30,000 university students across all 39 Australian universities found that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring at unacceptable rates.

Do you know your legal obligation to manage workplace sexual harassment?

Your organisation owes a duty of care to ensure that your workers are not exposed to sexual harassment.

As an employer, you must take the following steps:

  • Update policies and guidelines for sexual harassment.
  • Implement these policies and guidelines through education and training about sexual harassment and promote reporting and appropriate responses.
  • Ensure corporate values are aligned with policies and guidelines through action, not inaction.
  • Establish a workplace environment that encourages reporting of sexual harassment by:
  • encouraging leaders to speak out positively about tackling sexual harassment;
  • providing multiple communication channels to report sexual harassment;
  • responding to reports of sexual harassment in a timely way; and
  • providing training for those responsible for acting on reports of sexual harassment.
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