Call for action against sexual harassment in Australian science

Survey results suggesting that more than one third of Australian science workers have experienced sexual harassment have prompted calls for an national action plan to address the issue.

The survey – conducted by peak representative organisation Science and Technology Australia (STA) – involved nearly three hundred responses from across the sector.

“Our survey has received reports of sexual harassment at conferences, in laboratories, in offices, and in the field,” the report states.

“We have received reports of women and LGBTIQ+ identifying scientists and technologists leaving the sector after suffering or being exposed to harassment.

“We have also heard from women who believe they have not been promoted as their promotion decisions lie in the hands of their harasser.”

Shocking results

35.8 per cent of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, rising to 46 per cent of women participants.

33 per cent of survey participants said their workplace had inadequate policies for addressing reported incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Meanwhile, nearly a third (30 per cent) of respondents thought their workplace did not have policies that were effective in preventing sexual harassment in the first place.

33 per cent of survey participants said their workplace had inadequate policies for addressing reported incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Balance for better

The survey also reported fewer incidences of sexual harassment were reported by those in workplaces that were perceived by respondents to have equal or close to equal numbers of men and women.

“Research shows that workplaces that have an equal, or close to equal representation of men and women, have lower rates of sexual harassment – and our survey reveals similar trends,” Science and Technology Australia President Professor Emma Johnston said.

Achieving gender balance – styled as #BalanceforBetter – is the theme for International Women’s Day in 2019.

National Action Plan

The STA survey report has been submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission as part of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. One of the key recommendations from STA is the development and implementation of a national Action Plan for addressing sexual harassment which includes sector specific considerations.

“We hope to see this Inquiry spark an Australia-wide movement to make our workplaces safer,” Professor Johnston said.

“Speaking on behalf of our members, who represent more than 70,000 STEM professionals, we stand ready to support action to stop workplace sexual harassment.”

“We must also have clear consequences for perpetrators which are well publicised and consider following our colleagues in the USA by stripping honours and awards from those who are found guilty of sexual harassment in the courts,” Professor Johnston said.

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