01 July 2024

Workplace sexual harassment_500x500.jpgA new approach will be investigated over the next three years to tackle one of the most entrenched and expensive issues facing Australian workplaces – sexual harassment.

It costs the country $3.5 billion each year in lost productivity, legal claims and internal investigations, yet sexual harassment remains a serious problem in many workplaces, not only those with a history of inappropriate behaviour towards women.

According to the latest survey from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the highest risk industry sectors are information, media and telecommunications; arts and recreation; electricity, gas, water and waste companies; and retail.

University of South Australia Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology, Michelle Tuckey, has been awarded $418,950 to lead a three-year national project identifying how workplace culture, work design, and working practices contribute to the problem.

“Workplace sexual harassment is rooted in organisational systems that accept or tolerate this behaviour, which means we need to go beyond a focus on individuals exhibiting poor behaviour” Prof Tuckey says.

“This is why policies, training and reporting have failed to address systemic breaches in workplaces. Training allows people to recognise sexual harassment and how to report it, but it produces minimal change if the work environment is inherently unsafe.”

Prof Tuckey and UniSA colleagues will collaborate with researchers from Griffith University and the University of Queensland to develop specific interventions designed to change the workplace cultures and practices through which sexual harassment commonly occurs.

By gaining a deeper understanding of the risk factors for sexual harassment in day-to-day organisational functioning and examining in-depth cases to guide the development of systemic interventions, the researchers plan to develop a model that makes workplaces resistant to sexual harassment.

“Despite its prevalence in Australia – affecting 20% of workers – sexual harassment is not inevitable; it is preventable,” Prof Tuckey says. “The greatest risks lie within workplaces rather than with individuals per se. Employees who are inclined to harass others are less likely to do so in healthy work environments.”

In partnership with 10 organisations from the fields of violence prevention, work health and safety, and human rights, the research will uncover how to shift workplaces towards cultures of prevention rather than reaction.

Media contact: Candy Gibson M:  +61 434 605 142 E: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au
Researcher: Professor Michelle Tuckey E: michelle.tuckey@unisa.edu.au

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