In 2020, the landmark Respect@Work inquiry found that sexual harassment at work is an entrenched part of life for many workers.
The fourth national workplace sexual harassment survey (conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2018) found that one third of respondents – 39% of women and 26% of men – had experienced sexual harassment in the past 5 years. Women, people with disability, LGBTQIA+ people and culturally diverse men were more likely to indicate that they’d experienced workplace sexual harassment.
This needs to change, and the #MeToo movement has brought new urgency. Respect@Work made important recommendations for law reform that are now underway, to support employers to create complainant-centred policies and practices.
But how much do we actually know about what works to fix sexual harassment at the workplace? What is a best practice approach, and how is it being implemented?
One of the biggest gaps in our knowledge is what employers are doing to manage how workplace harassment is prevented, reported and dealt with.
There is a lot of visibility around the few cases that make it into the media and the courts, and some of these high-profile cases have driven reform at Universities across the country. But when it comes to everyday practice, not a lot is known about how and why employers decide to implement particular policies and practices – and crucially, whether these are effective.
My research looks at what Universities are doing to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment before complaints come to the Human Rights Commission or the media. I study the factors that influence policy decisions and practices across the University sector.
Last year, I examined Australian Athena Swan Bronze Award applications for evidence of what Universities are doing to prevent and address workplace harassment. I discussed some of my initial findings at the Diversity Interventions SAGE conference earlier this year.
Research-informed solutions also need to engage with experts on what is happening in the workplace as key informants.
Diversity practitioners are usually the people who create and manage the processes that Universities put in place to manage complaints; create strategies to prevent workplace harassment; and manage the data that gets reported to University councils.
For those reasons, I’m now recruiting diversity practitioners as key informants to participate in a survey and interviews on what Universities are doing in this space, and what practitioners think they could do better.
It’s a real privilege to be able to bring my experience as a diversity and workforce policy practitioner to this project, and to contribute to the research base that I want to use!
If you’re also a diversity practitioner, please consider participating and sharing your knowledge and opinions – the success of this research depends on our collective expertise and professional generosity. The survey only takes 20 minutes to complete.
One of the objectives of the SAGE program is continuous improvement: employers create tailored solutions to problems emerging from the data; evaluate and improve these solutions over time; and share solutions to common problems to create better conditions for everyone.
By harnessing the expertise of practitioners, my research will contribute to the evidence base that supports employers to create robust, complainant-centred approaches that support victims and foster respectful workplace cultures.