Help for business to proactively stop sexual harassment

Dominic Giannini |

New regulations will require employers to take action to stamp out sexual harassment at work.
New regulations will require employers to take action to stamp out sexual harassment at work.

Employers have been given a clear directive to stamp out sexual harassment, a peak body says as it launches a campaign to help companies better protect workers.

Bosses will be supported to meet new regulations requiring businesses to actively take steps to prevent sexual harassment, under the Lead the Change campaign launched on Monday by violence prevention group Our Watch.

More than four million people have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years, with incidents higher in male-dominated sectors like construction, retail and mining, according to figures commissioned by the organisation.

More than 40 per cent of women experienced sexual harassment at work compared to just over one quarter of men.

Trainee worker
Incidents of sexual harassment are higher in sectors dominated by males, the Our Watch group says. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

Only 18 per cent of women reported their experiences of sexual harassment because they felt they would not be supported, Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said.

“Community sentiment and understanding around sexual assault and sexual harassment in workplaces has certainly increased to the point that it can’t be swept under the carpet anymore,” she told AAP.

While almost all employers agreed sexual harassment in the workplace was bad, they don’t know where to start, which is where the campaign steps in, Ms Kinnersly said.

The campaign provides resources and tools to help businesses focus on prevention rather than just responding to harassment.

“They think it’s complicated or it’s outside their expertise or they think that they have been doing it and it hasn’t been successful,” Ms Kinnersly said.

“So this campaign really aims to make it simple and effective.”

But the government-backed campaign was only part of the puzzle, she said. Changes are needed across the board, including education about respectful relationships as well as better response and early intervention services to keep women safe.

Men who held rigid and unhealthy ideas of masculinity were more likely to perpetrate violence against women, Ms Kinnersly said, with the perpetrator being a man in almost 80 per cent of cases.

“We’ve got to break down the harmful stereotypes about men,” she said.

“But we also need that piece in the middle of early intervention. That’s an area that still needs further investment.”

CEO of Our Watch Patty Kinnersly
Patty Kinnersly says sexual harassment goes unreported because victims feel they won’t be supported. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Sexual harassment was pervasive and too many employers didn’t realise they had a legal obligation to work to prevent it, ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.

“You’ve thought about how to make workplaces safe from something like asbestos in your workplace, you should think the same way about sexual harassment,” she said in a message directed at employers.

Thousands of women had been pushed out of the workforce and away from job opportunities because of the way they were treated, Prevention of Family Violence assistant minister Justine Elliot said.

Stronger action was needed to address the issue, Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley said.

“It’s critical the Lead the Change campaign has a real impact,” she said.

The survey commissioned by Our Watch included 200 business leaders working in organisations with more than 10 employees.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Fullstop Australia 1800 385 578

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028