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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Of course, there is little-to-no chance that, when faced with writing articles for an HR company, I was not going to broach this subject. It’s rife out there folks; sexual harassment is almost like HR’s bread and butter.

Important to note: I’m writing this post specifically about women, but allow me to put it out there, right at the start, that there is such a thing as men being harassed by women in the workplace, as well as same-sex harassment. I acknowledge it, I’m just not referring to it in this article. Sorry. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you choose to.

For most of us women, we’ve felt that icky, dirty feeling while at work. Sure, we’ve felt it walking down the street too, or out for a night with our girlfriends or even partner. But at work, you kind of expect to feel safe, don’t you? You think that you’re there to do a job, so you’re going to be OK and there won’t be any ickiness. But you’re wrong. It exists. It’s a powerful monster lurking in the corridors, behind the photocopier, in the warehouse or in the cafeteria.

But why is sexual harassment still a thing? Why do some men choose to demean a woman, simply because she’s a woman? Are men threatened by us? Are they still hanging onto the hegemonic structures of old, where women were kept at home, after marrying? I don’t understand.

When I was a young and extremely naive eighteen year old, I worked as a receptionist in a small family-owned business. It was a husband and wife team, with their only daughter also at helm, plus a few sales representatives, a driver, and a warehouse manager. This workplace was rife with sexual harassment. All the men in the office, including the owner, would openly stare at my cleavage, or dart their eyes up and down my body while talking to me, totally ignoring my face.

There were times when I overheard the men in the warehouse talk about how they’d like to ‘give it to’ any or all of the three females in the office. The warehouse manager exposed himself to me one day. A sales representative took me on a day-trip to potential buyers, and asked if I wanted to have sex with him in the back seat of his car. It was a truly awful place to work, and I was miserable. I needed South Park’s Petey the Sexual Harassment Panda to shut that shit down (here’s a clip, if you need a refresher: Unfortunately, Petey was still about ten years away from originally airing, and he proved unsuccessful in South Park, so I think his chance of helping me was nil.

Seriously though, I once approached the female owner to make a complaint. Her response was, ‘Don’t be so sensitive. He’s just joking!’ Another time, I mentioned to the daughter a sexual comment that came from the warehouse manager, she responded, ‘Oh yeah, he’s said the same to me. You should consider it a compliment.’ After six or eight months of enduring this, I resigned, without another job to go to, thinking that it was my problem: I was too sensitive; I was too young and naïve. That perhaps they were right, this was the way the employment world turned.

There’s a few more years of working under my belt now, and I know there are policies in place to root (pun intended) out this sort of behaviour, especially in medium or large-sized businesses. But still, sometimes it’s not as easy as phoning the HR department. What if, like my experience, you’re working for a small, family-owned business? Or, what if the male who’s harassing you is the CEO? What do you do if Management ‘loses’ the paperwork, or ignores your cry for help? What if there is no HR department where you work? What happens if the business sends you off with a decent remuneration that deep down you know is hush money? What if you really want the promotion—your manager has suggested that a quickie is all it will take and you’re aware that other women in the office have done just that to get where they are.

Of course there are other avenues that we can take if our workplace doesn’t play fair in addressing sexual harassment. If you find that your direct line manager isn’t listening, try another manager with similar authority, contact your union or industry organisation or find a private company that offers independent employee advocate services. The Equal Opportunity Commission is another step that you can take, along with Worksafe (or equivalent body in your state or territory). There is also Fair Work Australia, the police or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But even with these in place, as a society we still need to face this and eradicate this from the workplace. Sexual harassment is shit and absolutely not OK and everyone needs to learn this. Men need to remember that it is illegal to sexually harass people at work, and women need to stand up for each other more and make a hell of a noise when they see it happening. Men need to keep their penises safely out of the workplace and treat women with respect and as equals. If you come from a cultural background that does not believe in equality of the sexes, then you need to learn to keep those opinions, as well as your hands, genitals and all other body parts, to yourself in the workplace. Women have the legal right to walk into work and do their job without being harassed; we have the legal right to strive for and achieve our workplace aspirations, without the males who work around us perving, ogling, or suggesting that we’re there for their titillating pleasure or to live out their sexual fantasy.

So, let’s all try a bit harder to be professional while at work. Yes?


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