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Would you be brave enough to speak out?

The issues of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in the workplace are age old, but are attitudes changing over time or are they as prevalent as ever? It seems that cases continue to arise – like the Christina Rich settlement with PwC – where women are being disadvantaged in their career progression and opportunities by virtue of their gender.

In a recent sphinxx Take the Lead group mentoring session, a high profile Australian leader talked about her experiences with sexual discrimination. She said that on at least one occasion she had decided not to speak out, for fear of recrimination from her male colleagues and male boss, and out of concern that it would “label” her forevermore.

In other instances, women have informed me of the ongoing advances they’ve received from male colleagues and of the need to approach their boss to request intervention. The more I raise the topic, the more examples I’m offered.

Last week in the Australian Financial Review (‘Harassment victims fear making fuss’, AFR 15/5/08, page 7), federal sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick noted that ‘one of her first meetings in the role was a defining moment for her, where 10 of 14 young women had experienced sexual harassment in their workplace, but only one had complained about it’.

Why?  Broderick commented further that “There is the idea that they were not only the victim of sexual harassment but that they would be the victim of bringing the issue to the attention of management”.

A further example of discrimination was offered today at “The Ernies Book” event for Sydney Writers Week where co-authors Meredith Burgmann and Yvette Andrews shared their many and varied experiences of Australian men who – through words spoken in the public domain – have earned awards for the terrible things they’ve had to say about women.  Burgmann spoke of female university students she has guest-lectured having no notion of gender inequality until they’ve been in the workforce for a few years.  The difference, she said, is that at university its enough for women to write a good essay in order to do well; yet in the workplace women soon learn that writing a good proposal isn’t enough – especially when it’s pinched by one of the blokes.

Clearly while we may have come a long way, as a gender we still have a long way to go before we can truly claim equality in the workplace.  I don’t know about you, but this sure worries me.


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