If you are ever tempted to think that sexual harassment in the workplace is an old issue, consider this fact. Last year, journalist Tracey Spicer asked Australians working in the media to contact her with their #metoo stories. She received a staggering 1,600 responses from all around Australia, across different industries and backgrounds, with many expressing how shame and fear kept them from speaking out earlier. Workplace harassment and abuse is clearly a live issue, kept hidden in our workplaces and perpetuated by a culture of fear.
What Tracey did in response to the stories she received is the subject of our latest forum, hosted earlier this month by Deloitte.
The afternoon began with our AGM, where participants heard a report from NEEOPA president Rowan Arndt, followed by a review of our financial statements by our treasurer and a vote for our new executive committee.
This was followed by a conversation session with Tracey Spicer. A journalist, commentator and author of bestselling book The Good Girl Stripped Bare, Tracey is the co-founder and national convenor of the nationwide mentoring group Women in Media. After hearing people’s harassment stories in the wake of #metoo – and out of concern that the global #timesup movement was not picking up momentum in Australia – Tracey established NOW Australia: a non-profit, non-partisan organisation for people across all industries who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or intimidated.
Forum participants had a great opportunity to learn from Tracey’s knowledge and experience, as well as from the work other companies are doing to combat sexual harassment in their workplaces. Here are three take-home points from the afternoon:
Technology has enabled women to speak out
Feminism progresses in bursts, according to Tracey. Similarly, the call to end sexual harassment has occurred as a wave of mounting pressure that is now reaching a critical turning point. Tracey put forward three factors that have influenced movements like #metoo and #timesup: the fragmentation of mass media, globalisation, and the proliferation of new technology (e.g. social media). All these things have allowed women’s voices to be heard en masse, causing this problematic issue to come to light.
Sexual harassment can’t be ignored; we all have a part to play
It’s important to understand that sexual harassment is not just about sex, but exercising power over others. It has a real impact on people in our society, such as those who are vulnerable and marginalised (e.g. single parents who have no choice but to continue working under harassment or bullying because they can’t risk losing their job). Tracey also touched on the important role men play in changing culture within the workplace. She offered practical suggestions for bystanders on how to intervene, such as believing women when they speak up, offering support when they come forward, and calling out unacceptable behaviour when you see it happening.
Workplaces play a significant role in combating sexual harassment in the workplace
Sexual harassment impacts OHS, Duty of Care and Corporate Governance, adding further impetus for senior executives to collaborate with HR to make a difference. Prior to Tracey taking the stage, participants discussed in small groups what their workplace was doing to combat sexual harassment. Tracey invited the audience to share what has been done in their organisations. Key points that were raised included:
Sydney University’s compulsory online training for students coming on campus, coupled with an ‘open door’ policy in which no one approaching a teacher or counsellor with a complaint would be turned away
the University of New South Wales’s ‘First Responders Network’ staff, who have been especially trained to deal with and appropriately respond to matters pertaining to sexual harassment
the importance of non-gendered language in schools, with some schools taking proactive steps in this area
Deloitte’s policy to respond to any such issues within a specific number of days, so as not to draw out the process unnecessarily
the need be transparent about consequences for offenders and how they are dealt with
Spearheaded by Tracey, NOW Australia helps people who have experienced harassment understand their rights and options, and supports them if they wish to tell their story. The funds NOW are building will connect people with counselling and legal services around Australia. Find out more here.