Findings from the 2018 the Australian Human Rights Commission fourth national report on the prevalence, nature and reporting of workplace sexual harassment in Australia found a staggering one in three (33 per cent) working Australians had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years.
The retail and accommodation and food services industries were found to have higher rates than the national rate with 42 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) approached the commission in relation to conducting an additional survey in response to high prevalence rates in the industry. The survey had more than 3000 participants and revealed that female members were more likely to have been sexually harassed in the workplace (46 per cent) than male SDA members (29 per cent).
The report found over half (54 per cent) of SDA members who completed the survey, had been exposed to workplace sexual harassment in the last five years, either by experiencing it personally, as a bystander, or both.
The most commonly experienced type of sexual harassment behaviour for both SDA members (24 per cent) and those in the working population (19 per cent) was sexually suggestive comments or offensive jokes.
Alarmingly, the findings show that workplace sexual harassment is not exclusively experienced from employee to employee or manager to employee (vice versa), but by customers or patrons in the workplace. One in five (21 per cent) SDA members said they had been sexually harassed by a customer in their current job, with female SDA members more likely to have had this experience (28 per cent) than their male counterparts (11 per cent). Of all workplace sexual harassment incidents experienced by SDA members in the last five years, one in three (36 per cent) involved a customer as the harasser.
Female retail workers under the age of 30 were most likely to be harassed, making up 46 per cent of all victims of customer-related harassment. Of everyone in that age bracket who reported being sexually harassed, they revealed it happened, on average, seven times in the past year.
Senior Employment Relations Adviser Isabella Zamorano said, “It’s time for those at the top of every business, even small business owners to take strong action against sexual harassment in the workplace.”
According to Zamorano, it is unfortunate that it takes shocking news headlines and important research reports such as these to spark necessary dialogue about the implications of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace and extensions of the workplace.
“The matter highlights that at all levels, professions and industries, sexual harassment is a risk and cannot be taken lightly – not only for the victims but for the businesses that also risk reputational damage and disruption,” she said. “Don’t wait for a crisis, act now.”
Zamorano added, “Sexual harassment is set to take greater prominence in the world of employment relations and it’s important that you have the relevant policies and procedures in place to protect your people and your business. It’s time for business leaders to be proactive and lead the path to change.”