Sexual harassment can't be part of the job

2 March 2022
International Women’s Day Jessie Street Lecture - Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins
Despite decades of regulation and advocacy, sexual harassment remains a persistent and pervasive problem in Australian workplaces, highlighting the need for urgent reforms. This topic is the focus of this year's International Women's Day Jessie Street Lecture, presented by Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins on 7 March.

Watch the webinar recording

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins

“A broad shift in the culture of our workplaces is urgently needed to address sexual harassment. Since the publication of our Respect@Work report in 2020, and with the courage of many victims of gendered-based violence speaking out, all employers are on notice that they must understand the risks in their workplaces and take swift individual and industry action to eliminate sexual harassment,” said Commissioner Jenkins. 

I have consistently said that the focus of employers should be to stop sexual harassment, rather than to stop complaints and media reporting of sexual harassment. This is the mindset shift required from all employers.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins

This event is hosted by the University of Sydney Business School’s Women and Work Research Group, which has amassed a significant body of research on women’s working lives and experiences of sexual harassment at work, including the following key findings:

  • In a nationally representative survey of women aged 16-40, research found that 10 percent of women were presently experiencing sexual harassment in their jobs, and that this rate was significantly higher for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 
  • Women working in male-dominated occupations experience persistent, repeated patterns of harassment, ranging from sexual assault and unwelcome advances to more subtle forms of gender-based harassment, such as jibes and jokes aimed at marginalising and excluding women workers.  
  • Among service sector workers the experience of sexual harassment was so pervasive in retail and hospitality work that both workers and managers framed the experience as being ‘part of the job’.  

“Sexual harassment is a persistent and pervasive feature of women’s experience at work. It has become all too clear over the past year that such behaviours are far-reaching and highly damaging to women’s safety and economic security, and that responses are often inadequate,” said Marian Baird, Professor of Gender and Employment Relations and Co-Director of the Women and Work Research Group.   

Rae Cooper, Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations and Co-Director of the Women and Work Research Group, said addressing the problem of sexual harassment required a more holistic approach: “Sexual harassment is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed in a holistic and integrated way – rather than in isolation – by organisations, governments and unions. This is urgent work.”

Held each year by the Women and Work Research Group at the Business School, the annual Jessie Street International Women’s Day Lecture commemorates the life and work of Jessie May Street (1889-1970), a feminist activist and suffragette who campaigned tirelessly for women’s rights and economic independence.

Commissioner Jenkins’ lecture will commemorate the important role Jessie Street played in ensuring women’s equal participation in the United Nations and the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women, and Jessie’s advocacy for equality across sport, education and work, women’s financial independence, women’s suffrage and representation in Parliament.

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