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It's 2015 so why are we still having to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace?

July 13, 2015


I must be getting old and crankier – in the 1980’s when I worked in the Commonwealth Government sector I was trained as a Sexual Harassment Contact Officer and then the title just became ‘Harassment Contact Officer’ as the harassment became more widespread and wasn’t just sexual which is pretty sad. I can’t believe that now, 30 years on, the need for these positions has not gone away. Instead we need more people to be trained as harassment continues, apparently unabated. I find that to be absolutely shocking.


In May this year I watched a documentary on Insight on SBS about sexual harassment and a number of women gave examples, often graphic examples, of harassment to which they had been subjected in the workplace.


Here is the link – it is well worth watching but this link has an outline as well which is just worth reading


I have to say that I was appalled that, in 2015, people are not only still being subjected to sexual harassment to such a large extent, but often they are also still afraid to speak up.


According to Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick  – and this is a quote from  the Insight link above “it’s a basic human right to be able to work in workplace that is free from violence and that change needs to come from the leadership.”


Now call me naive but my first thought is –  ‘What the hell?’  It’s outrageous that we should even have to be told this. Seriously – a workplace free of violence?  Of course no workplace should have violence in it just as no home should have violence in it and in 2015 it’s pretty disheartening for us as a  society we’re still dealing with harassment and violence  and the problem  doesn’t seem to be getting any better.


In December 2012, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) published a report called ‘Changing the rules: the experiences of female lawyers in Victoria’ which showed that often when women feel unsupported in a workplace, they simply leave that workplace, or the profession as a whole, rather than risk potential repercussions that come from making a complaint. Unfortunately, I think this would be a fairly common scenario.


Commissioner Broderick also says “Sexual harassment doesn’t jump out of nowhere, it grows in organisations where demeaning attitudes about women are okay and where there’s no courageous leadership because what we do know in organisations that are doing it well, firstly there’s a zero tolerance to it and the leader of the organisation is very clear about that.”


What can we do as managers and leaders to ensure we have courageous leadership and zero tolerance to harassment? There obviously needs to be a coordinated and complex response to these issues – this is not a quick fix (obviously if we’re still having this discussion in 2015!) but everyone deserves to be able to go to work and not be afraid or feel threatened.


In my view there needs to be:

  • Visible and practical commitment from organisations,

  • Both male and female leaders stepping up and having a voice on the issue within their organisations so people understand harassment won’t be tolerated

  • Role modeling of good behaviour by leadership teams and managers and supervisors

  • Leadership roles taken by  relevant industry bodies

  • Promotion of gender equality

  • Education of all staff on responsibilities and liability

  • Employer policies

  • Employer training

  • Good mentoring schemes

  • Reporting systems that allow people to make complaints without being victimised

Hopefully all of these will create a positive working environment so people can work harmoniously together.

Sometimes the hardest part might be getting the commitment from your managers and leaders – sell it to them by making it real –  ask them how they would feel if their wife, sister or daughter came home and told them they were being harassed in their workplace – how would that make them feel? What advice would they give to that person? Now imagine if that same scenario was happening in their workplace – should it be any different?


We’ve obviously got a long way to go before we combat this but the more we talk about it and bring it to people’s attention, the easier it will become.

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