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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace - Launch Speech

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|| Launch Speech

The Australian Workplace…
No Place for Sexual Harassment

Speech deliverd by Pru Goward, Federal Sex Discrimination
at the launch of the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace resources
Parliament House, Canberra, 24 March 2004.

Thank you to the Attorney-General for launching the
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's materials on sexual
harassment in the workplace.

Significantly, these include the results of Australia's
first-ever national survey on sexual harassment.

Ladies and Gentlemen thank you for coming here this
afternoon to the launch of:

  • 20 Years On: The Challenges Continue ...Sexual Harassment in the
    Australian Workplace;
  • The revised edition of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A
    Code of Practice for Employers
  • These posters, for schools and workplaces, encouraging victims of
    sexual harassment to "speak out" and perpetrators to "stop"
    their harassing behaviour.

These publications are the final product of a
review the Commission has undertaken on what we know about, and how
we manage sexual harassment in the workplace.

It seems timely that we conduct this review this year,
as 2004 marks the twentieth anniversary if the Federal Sex Discrimination
An act which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex,
marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, family responsibilities
and sexual harassment in certain areas of public life.

For twenty years then, sexual harassment has been unlawful
in workplaces across Australia.

Yet as the review found, sexual harassment at work
remains a perennial issue for women and some men, in paid work.

It is a form of unlawful sex discrimination that continues
to act as a barrier to a woman's full participation in the workplace
and to the realisation of substantive equality.

20 Years On: The Challenges Continue ...Sexual Harassment
in the Australian Workplace
reports the findings of the first ever
national survey of sexual harassment in the Australian community.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, on
behalf of the Commission, was a national household telephone survey
of over a thousand Australians aged between 18 and 64 years.

Overall, the survey found that 28 per cent of adult
Australians had experienced sexual harassment at some time in public
life - 41 per cent of all women and 14 per cent of all men.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was experienced
by 18 per cent of all respondents.

Broken down by gender, 28 per cent of Australian women
and 7 per cent of men have been sexually harassed at work.

How do these figures compare on a global scale?

The telephone survey has confirmed that the incidence
of sexual harassment in Australia is broadly comparable with that of
some other countries.

The New Zealand experience for example, recently measured
by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, is that 15 per cent of people
have been sexual harassed at work.

Our survey also provided an insight into the nature
of the sexual harassment experienced in the workplace.

Sexual harassment often begins with verbal abuse, innuendo
or unwanted sexual comments.

It may go on to involve behaviour such as propositioning,
asking for sexual favours, unwanted touching, assault or even rape.

Over half of the sexual harassment
experienced in the workplace involved physical forms of sexually harassing
conduct, including unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering, kissing or
unnecessary familiarity.

However, non-physical types of sexual harassment were
most frequently experienced, such as suggestive comments or jokes, staring
or leering, sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, and sexually explicit
pictures or posters.

Importantly, a significant proportion of the sexual
harassment experienced in the workplace was perceived as serious in
nature with half of the interviewees to the survey rating the experience
as very or extremely offensive.

The Challenges Continue also compares the results
of the telephone survey with the findings of a review undertaken by
us of sexual harassment employment complaints made to the Commission.

A Bad Business: Review of sexual harassment in employment
complaints 2002
was released late last year.

It provided excellent information about the nature
of sexual harassment in employment complaints made to the Commission.

It did not, and could not, however provide information
about the general incidence and nature of sexual harassment in the Australian
community - that being the intention of the random telephone survey.

Comparing the results of A Bad Business and The Challenges Continue provides insight into the similarities
and differences between the workplace sexual harassment reported to
the Commission and that experienced by members of the community.

Some of the findings of this comparison are:

  • Seven in ten cases of sexual harassment in the telephone survey
    involved men harassing women, but significantly, 21 per cent of identified
    harassers were female - mostly harassing male victims.
  • Only five per cent of the workplace sexual harassment complaints
    reviewed in A Bad Business were made by men.

This suggests that male targets of harassment
are less willing to make a complaint or formally address sexual harassment.

It also suggests that men may need to be made more
aware of their rights to protection from sexual harassment.

In relation to the harassers - almost half of the harassers
in the telephone survey were co-workers of the target, with over a third
of harassers a person in authority in the workplace in relation to the

Of those harassed by someone in authority, the harasser
was more likely to be male than female.

This is broadly in line with the findings of A Bad
where 61 per cent of the alleged harassers were in positions
of authority in relation to the target of the harassment, and over
a third
of alleged harassers were co-workers of the target.

The telephone survey also found that less than one
third of the workplace sexual harassment experienced is formally reported
to either employers or external agencies, such as the Commission.

Of the sexual harassment reported, most is reported
to the target's manager, supervisor, employer or boss. A vote of confidence
in the boss!

The reasons given by interviewees to the telephone
survey for not reporting the sexual harassment basically fell into three

  • A lack of faith in the formal grievance or complaints mechanism;
  • A belief that the experience was not serious enough to warrant reporting;
  • The target preferring to deal with the problem themselves.

As we would expect, only one per cent of workplace
sexual harassment is reported to anti-discrimination agencies such as
the Commission. We have long thought, and now can show, that sexual
harassment taken to the Commission and other anti-discrimination agencies
is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is encouraging that the telephone survey results
found that of those who have witnessed incidents of workplace sexual
harassment in the five years prior to the survey, the vast majority
took an active role in addressing it. This included confronting the
harasser. It includes other men as well as well as other women.

It appears that a message of intolerance and unacceptability
concerning sexual harassment is certainly being heard in some workplaces.

This is a message that employers need to play a crucial
role in promoting if it is to gain further acceptance.

It requires employers managing both the prevention
and incidence of sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Challenges Continue suggests a number of
ways in which employers can successfully manage both of these elements.

To further assist employers in doing so the Commission
has also substantially revised and updated its Code of Practice,
first released in 1996.

This brings us to the second publication we are here
to launch this afternoon, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Code
of Practice for Employers

The Code of Practice is based on a number of
general principles of sexual harassment law summarised from the Sex
Discrimination Act and case law, giving employers an overview of their
legal obligations.

The Code of Practice sets out simply and clearly
what constitutes sexual harassment; how employers can be liable for
sexual harassment; and how employers can avoid liability by taking all
reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Code of Practice also includes helpful examples
from the case law on sexual harassment, and common workplace situations
where sexual harassment may occur.

Step-by-step guidance in formulating a written policy
on sexual harassment is also contained in the Code of Practice,
as well as how to establish formal and informal complaints processes
for employees.

Lastly, today we are also launching two posters on
sexual harassment.

The posters contain messages that are relevant to workplaces,
universities and schools.

The first is targeted at young women in schools, TAFEs
and universities. It encourages young women who have experienced sexual
harassment to speak out about it.

The second poster is aimed primarily at perpetrators
of workplace sexual harassment.

It seeks to alert men, who are predominantly the perpetrators
of sexual harassment, about the nature and impact of their conduct and
warn them to stop their behaviour.

Having just returned from the Forty-eighth session
of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, where the theme
for discussion was the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality,
it is vital that we engage with men and boys in addressing sexual harassment
- particularly as men are still the key decision makers and holders
of economic and organisational power.

And this leads me to the final point I would like to
make about sexual harassment in the workplace.

All the legislation and case law in the world will
not stamp out workplace sexual harassment. We have had in place for
twenty years now legislation prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Yet the problem persists.

Ultimately, it is up to employers to ensure that there
is no place for sexual harassment in their workplaces. Employers set
the tone. They determine the workplace culture.

Prevention of sexual harassment is crucial for workplaces
and a workforce which prides itself on rewarding merit, refuses to tolerate
discrimination and fosters gender equality.

Prevention is a great deal more difficult than implementing
grievance procedures.

Hopefully the publications we are launching today will
provide the necessary guidance.

A Bad Business coupled with The Challenges
are useful in assisting in the prevention of sexual harassment
and the development of appropriate policies.

The revised Code of Practice should also assist
Australia's employers large and small, to take up the challenges of
sexual harassment - the challenge of eradicating it from our workplaces.

Thank you