Sexual Harassment – What do you suggest a preventative system would look like?

toxic guy

Sexual harassment continues to be a problem as highlighted by ‘Insight’ on Channel SBS. The stories shared by Jemma and the other panelists were shocking. Our system is failing our community and it is failing our women.

The conversation from the audience was interesting but unfortunately no solution was identified. Interestingly, incidents occurred where alcohol and work related parties/activities were occurring. This experience is true from many of our own investigations.  Casual attitudes equal casual behaviours.

Doing more of the same seems pointless, and something needs to be done to disrupt this status quo. Increased legislation, increased damages and regulation are not providing the results we need. People (leaders in organisations) are failing their people. HR is more often than not powerless to solve incidents. The political framework and the cost benefit analysis of losing a ‘gun’ employee who is a perpetrator is a barrier to change.  Too often people make a decision to ‘settle’ and make the problem go away rather than deal in a mature fashion with the perpetrator.  Lives and families can be changed forever.

Most concerning from the interviews on Insight was the attitude of not complaining because its ‘too hard’, ‘too damaging’, ‘too expensive’. Under reporting of incidents is a problem and we do not truly know the extent of the problem.

Why is it that we still endure this problem in 2014?  Laws were created in the mid 1980’s to deter this behaviour however it still continues. The cost to people, organisations and our productivity cannot be understated. A different, more holistic approach is needed and perhaps have elements such as these:

  • The most serious of sexual harassment incidents that involve sexual assault ought to be criminalised as was serious workplace bullying in Victoria;
  • An effective weapon against sexual harassment is prevention;
    • create an environment and system where people can speak up without fear;
    • use independent 3rd parties to allow for disclosures and representation of employees (HR is not trusted);
    • act quickly to intervene without blame, make it hard for alleged behaviour to continue unnoticed – rather like a thief who moves away from a secure target;
    • DO NOT do nothing when an employee discloses – treat a disclosure like you would a machine missing a guard or a trip hazard;
    • risk profile workplaces and teams – establish systems where lead indicators of behavioural risk can be identified and acted upon;
  • Establish mandatory reporting on organisational performance in regard to incidents, and preventative governance measures (policy suite, training, systems and procedures);
  • Only employee temporary contractors that can certify that they have their own robust training and compliance regime in place just as we do with OH&S accreditation or certifications;

I am sure other measures can be designed to assist. Organisations are not doing enough, regulation and legislation must step up.

We conducted our own research of Australian workers and found sadly, that 37% of people reporting sexual harassment felt that no-one cared and were told to ‘toughen up’ by their manager. This was the case for Jemma on the ‘Insight’ program.

Alarmingly, 24% of cases reported that organisations (people & leaders) either did nothing or made matters worse and 11% of people experiencing sexual harassment felt sad, alone, and had contemplated suicide.

Here is one story of the hundreds we received through our research:
“This takes place nearly every day. It ranges from men trying to put their hands down my top to trying to kiss me and ‘feel me up’. They make inappropriate advances to me and when I take it to my manager he just laughs. Generally there are people around when this happens but it gets worse when no-one is around. On employee came around to my house in the middle of the night, banging on my door and texting me. My manager is someone I thought I could go to but, nothing changes. I have to leave my job.”

And another:
“Whilst one of my female colleagues was bending over, a male colleague came up behind her and simulated sex”

Research Statistics
14% of people complained to their manager;
16% took legal action;
10% resigned;
23% took long term sick leave (more than 30 days);
12% reported bad behaviour toward them was copied by others;
30% of people did not report it;
(people under 34 years of age are most at risk)

Industry Sector Statistics – The Top 5
Hospitality = 22% of sexual harassment reports;
Business & Finance = 16%;
Retail = 15%;
Transport = 14%;
Emergency Services = 12%;

State & Territory Statistics
Tasmania – 18%;
Queensland – 14%;
Western Australia – 13%;
New South Wales – 12%;
South Australia – 12%;
Victoria – 11%;
Northern Territory – 11%
Australian Capital Territory 7%

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