One third of workers say they have experienced sexual harassment

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner at Australian Human Rights Commission

A major survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission found one in three workers said they experienced sexual harassment in their workplace over the past five years. The survey found that reporting of workplace sexual harassment remains alarmingly low, at only 18%.

What were the findings of the survey?

Women (41%) were more likely than men (26%) to experience harassment, and over three quarters of harassers were men (77%). The survey, Time for respect: the fifth national survey of workplace sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, comes four years after the previous survey revealed similar rates of experiences of workplace sexual harassment.

In addition, the federal parliament recently passed the Respect@Work Bill, which will create a positive duty on all employers to implement measures to prevent sexual harassment.

The survey, conducted for the Commission by Roy Morgan Research, found only half the respondents said their employers provided information on how to report an incident, and even fewer (two in five) said they had attended training addressing sexual harassment. However, the survey indicated growing appetite for change. Almost three quarters of people believed their firm’s leaders were committed to ensuring a safe working environment.

Younger workers were more likely to experience sexual harassment. Other groups reporting higher than average rates included those who identified as LGBTQA+ (46%), people with an intersex variation (70%), First Nations people (56%), and those with a disability (48%).

Sexual harassment continues to be experienced in all industries, at all levels of seniority, and in a wide range of professional contexts. The report reveals various industries. The Information, Media and Telecommunications industry had the greatest prevalence (64%).

Two thirds (67%) of people who said they were sexually harassed experienced negative mental health impacts, and there were high rates of decreased job satisfaction (62%) and reduced self-esteem and confidence (57%). The report, which the Commission published in March 2020, made 55 recommendations to governments, the private sector and the community for reforms to help prevent and address workplace sexual harassment.

What do the findings mean for employers?

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who presented the findings in a speech to the National Press Club, said: “It is unacceptable that so many Aussie workers still experience sexual harassment. Though disappointing, it isn’t surprising that these results are similar to those of the previous survey as most recommendations from the Respect@Work Report have only recently been acted on, and some are still being implemented.”

“The actions that governments and workplaces around Australia are now taking will have an impact, but it will take time. I urge them to continue implementing change now, so that results of the next national survey may be greatly improved,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

“It is concerning that only 18% of sexual harassment incidents are reported. The website respectatwork.gov.au provides information for workers and businesses on how to respond to incidents and resources to help create respectful workplaces, free from harassment.”

The Federal Government has committed to implementing all recommendations from the report. Commissioner Jenkins’ National Press Club speech is available to view on ABC iView or YouTube. Transcripts are available to order through the National Press Club website. You can download a copy of the ‘Time for Respect’ report on the Commission’s website.