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14 March 2018
The #metoo movement has helped to expose the prevalence of sexual harassment in society, particularly in the workplace. While the spotlight has been on individuals working in Hollywood's film and television industry, hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world have responded, bringing to light their own experiences of sexual harassment.
The impact that this has had on workplaces is profound. The Lean In organisation's research of US workplaces has found that since the reports of #metoo in the media, almost 50% of male managers are uncomfortable participating in common work activities (eg, mentoring, working alone, socialising and travelling for work) with women. So far, no similar studies have been conducted in Australia, but the trend is worrying.
Although #metoo encourages individuals to speak up and call out sexual harassment, inappropriate workplace behaviour and sexual assault, the Lean In research suggests that it may have a negative impact on gender equality in the workplace. If male leaders are discouraged from mentoring women or travelling with them to meetings and conferences, then women could miss out on vital opportunities for career development and advancement.
This update offers three key tips on how to support gender equality and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
In many organisations, key leaders and decision makers are men. Among the ASX 200 companies in Australia, more CEOs and chairs are named John, Peter or David than are women.
One way for women to move into leadership roles is through mentorship. Generally, women who are mentored can be more confident in their abilities, take more opportunities to progress and be guided in their careers.
Another way to support women's careers is through sponsorship. This moves beyond career guidance and involves a leader taking proactive steps to assist a woman's career progression. Women who are sponsored by people in more senior roles may be recommended for more promotions and advancement opportunities, and can be supported for pay increases and career development.
Encouraging more senior individuals to sponsor and mentor women in the workplace can help to ensure that the organisation is moving towards gender equality in leadership roles in the future.
The crux of #metoo is that by standing together and identifying as having experienced sexual harassment, victims can no longer be ignored or dismissed. It raises awareness about the spectrum of harassing behaviour and the wide range of people that it affects.
A 2012 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) found that 25% of women in Australia had been sexually harassed at work. The survey also found that only 20% of people who were sexually harassed reported it. These numbers suggest that sexual harassment is normalised in many workplaces and that individuals feel unable to report it. Unsurprisingly, the issues begin to appear long before employees join a workforce. The AHRC's 2017 report on sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities revealed that one in five students have been harassed and 87% of sexual assaults went unreported.
All allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace should be treated seriously, investigated empathetically and dealt with in the framework of gendered power dynamics. Therefore, investigations and disciplinary outcomes should take into account the power imbalance that can exist between individuals.
Rather than take our word for it, ask employees. Open dialogue is the first step to making workplaces fairer and safer for everyone.
Ultimately, if questions or concerns arise about whether a workplace has a problem with sexual harassment, takes sexual harassment seriously enough or is moving in the right direction for gender equality, ask the employees.(1)
For further information on this topic please contact Aaron Goonrey at Lander & Rogers' Sydney office by telephone (+61 2 8020 7700) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Alternatively, contact Emma Lutwyche at Lander & Rogers' Melbourne office by telephone (+61 3 9269 9000) or email (email@example.com). The Lander & Rogers website can be accessed at www.landers.com.au.
(1) An earlier version of this article was first published in HRM Online on February 16 2018.
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