Groundhog DayBy Lucy Clark, The Hoopla | Nov 01, 12 08:26 AM
Sexism is on the national agenda since THAT speech and, in light of depressing figures about workplace harassment, it needs to stay there.
“Am I surprised that progress has stalled? No. Am I depressed? Yes.”
It must seem a little like Groundhog Day for Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. Except in that movie, Bill Murray got to re-live the same crummy day over and over and over until things eventually got better. In increments.
That’s not the case in the world of sexual harassment in the workplace where, in fact, things are getting worse.
Commissioner Broderick’s office yesterday released its latest findings: one in four women at work are still being leered at, still being asked intrusive questions about their appearance, still receiving sexually explicit emails or texts, and are on the receiving end of unwanted sexually suggestive comments.
Fewer women are speaking up than ever before, and if they do they are likely to be labeled as troublemakers and may be demoted. Still.
Interestingly, the cases of men being harassed by other men is on the rise too. Commissioner Broderick told The Hoopla that these are the men “who step outside the macho culture – he’s the one who likes music, not sport.”
Most targets of sexual harassment are women under 40, with most of those targets being aged between 18-24. Most perpetrators are males aged between 31-50.
The issue was brought home to Broderick recently when, interviewing a group of young women 23 and under, every women could recount an instance of sexual harassment in their first or second job, and wondered if it was just a normal part of workplace culture.
“One of them said, ‘I know if my uncle does it, it’s not okay, but if my boss or manager does it, I thought maybe that’s the way workplaces are.’”
“Progress has stalled,” says Broderick, “And it’s depressing that it continues to be such a pervasive and persistent problem.”
“I’m the mother of a teenage daughter. I’m 51, and women my age thought these issues would be addressed in our lifetime and we didn’t think our daughters would have to put up with violence and fear at work. Being safe at work is a basic human right.”
Broderick doesn’t characterize Australia has having a sexist culture per se but she does say that there are still deep pockets of sexism within our culture.
“In my job, you could end up thinking that all men are bad, but of course the vast majority of men abhor any form of sexism and sexual harassment.”
Sexism is on a continuum, she said, with demeaning attitudes against women at one end and domestic violence against women at the other.
“We need to be cutting things off at the early end of the continuum.” She said.
A combined effort with business groups and unions is on track to improve matters in the workplace, while education needs to be ramped up so that boys and girls fully understand gender equality.
It helps, of course, that sexism has recently been placed so firmly on the national agenda in the last few weeks, with Julia Gillard’s impassioned speech about sexism in her workplace, and Tracey Spicer’s blistering letter published in The Hoopla about sexism in hers.
Broderick wants to see a nationwide campaign bringing issues of sexism even further to the forefront of the national conscience, like television and advertising campaigns designed to educate the public about the dangers of smoking and drink driving, where gruesome images are used to put people off.
“I get a sense there is real momentum behind the discussion,” says Broderick, “I stay out of politics but I agree with comments that (the Prime Minister’s speech) is one that many women would like to give in their own workplace.”
Luckily for Broderick, depression about the status of women is fleeting, and driven commitment to transforming work culture takes its place: “I am absolutely determined to make change.”
This post was first published on The Hoopla and has been republished with full permission.
Lucy Clark is the Editor of The Hoopla and is a journalist and editor with almost thirty years experience in newspapers and magazines in Sydney, London, and New York. She has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Vogue Living, Australian Art Review, and Gourmet Traveller. Most recently the Books Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, she has also contributed to the non-fiction books, Australia Through Time, and What Women Want. You can follow her on Twitter: @lucykateclark.