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Published 01 November 2012 10:30, Updated 02 November 2012 05:07
This week I reported on the findings of a national survey of workplace sexual harassment that shows that despite all the discussions about equality and progress for working women, one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
The findings, released in a report called Working Without Fear, found most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women – nearly 79 per cent of harassers are men.
My esteemed colleague Leo D’Angelo Fisher yesterday wrote why he thought the findings were complete nonsense and says gender diversity is a “cynical, opportunistic and lucrative industry” perpetuating a the myth that women are “downtrodden”.
With much love and respect Leo, I don’t agree. Like most men who claim to know what women feel, you don’t have a clue. You can talk to all your networks and as many woman you want to confirm your views but you aren’t a working woman and have never been judged on the basis of your gender rather than your competencies.
It’s also easy to claim that workplace sexual harassment is a a mythical concept, as you have never been a victim of it.
The survey reveals that the types of harassment reported include offensive jokes, intrusive questions and inappropriate staring or leering and that harassers are most likely to be a co-worker.
To me, this tells it all. Sexual harassment isn’t always overt. It’s not always about a man inappropriately touching a woman or making blatant sexual comments for everyone to hear. It can be a lot more subtle and therefore harder to pinpoint and eradicate.
But it does exist – whether it’s a comment here or a look there – and unfortunately all too often it happens without anybody ever knowing it’s happened.
Women are more likely to be open and honest in a confidential telephone survey about having being harassed at work, than they are in a work setting.
I know I would be. While I have never been a victim of overt sexual harassment, in previous jobs I have been a victim of sexist remarks and innuendos from men in the workplace. Is that sexual harassment? Or is it just the reality of Australian workplaces where one-quarter of boards in the S&P/ASX 200 still do not have any women?
Personally, I decided in these cases it would be better to suck it up and stay quiet for fear that I might be judged, to use D’Angelo Fisher’s words, as a “fragile, helpless, simpering victim”.
D’Angelo Fisher implies the survey results portray men as “unreconstructed brutes”. It didn’t. In fact the results found that one in six men have also been sexually harassed at work.
More importantly, sometimes sexism can translate into a women feeling harassed – that’s what the survey results have captured. The survey confirms that sexist and stereotyped views about women are often held by men presumably men judging a co-worker on gender issues – how she looks or dresses rather than on her skills and experience.
I’m not using this column to start another debate about quotas or to argue for stricter workplace laws. Sexual harassment is no longer a legislative problem, adequate laws are already in place to stamp out serious cases and hopefully are working as they should be.
But what I do think is a real issue, and needs to change, is the gender imbalance that still exists in workplaces and more importantly, the way men respond in helping change that imbalance.
That’s not me jumping on the feminist bandwagon or running an “agenda”. It’s me wanting to be seen as an equal, in every man’s eyes.