In an edited extract of a speech given at the Global Summit of Women, Tracey Spicer urges employers to step up and stamp out sexual harassment
My first job was working behind the Yummies Bar at our local roller-skating rink, swirling soft serves ice-creams into crispy cones to a soundtrack of Sweet with Ballroom Blitz for the speed skate and Barbara Streisand for the couples’ skate.
I remember being so proud to be 14 years old in the workforce, earning the stellar sum of $2 an hour.
One day a man swaggered over to the counter and asked for a soft serve with extra sprinkles.
“Don’t worry about the change, luv,” he leered. “Just give us a kiss.”
I did not want my first kiss to be with an unkempt chap in his early 30s. But, I had no choice.
Before I could step back, he grabbed me by the elbows and began eating my face. It wasn’t a kiss: he was biting, chomping, devouring.
When he finally let go, I could taste blood. My lips and tongue were numb.
“See ya!” he smirked, slouching off.
I stood, in shock. I finished my shift. Then I went home.
I thought, what’s the point in complaining? No one listens to teenage girls. The victim is always to blame.
My first kiss – supposed to be a sweet, consensual event – was actually my first experience of workplace sexual harassment. Countless encounters followed on a spectrum from indecent assault to attempted rape, which I wrote about in my memoir The Good Girl Stripped Bare.
I’ve worked on documentaries around the world about the plight of women and girls. My own experiences are not as serious as using rape as a weapon of war. But as the #MeToo movement has shown, every woman has a story. That’s why we launched Now Australia. For everyone. For the survivors in some of the lowest-paid sectors in the workforce. For the nurses, the cleaners, those on the factory floor. For the marginalised women, and those from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Now Australia is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit coalition with one aim: to end sexual harassment in the workplace. We’re nearing the end of our initial stage of crowdfunding to build a triage service, connecting anyone who has experienced sexual harassment with the right counselling and legal support.
In Australia, one in four men have been sexually harassed during their lifetime and one in two women. And women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are twice as likely to be sexually harassed at work.
Long-term, we plan to collate research to create education programs for schools and businesses.
The message emerging is that there are a number of proven strategies to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace, but none of them will work in isolation.
We need revolutionary cultural change requiring quantum shifts in legislation, education and corporate structures, with cooperation across multiple sectors, from the grassroots to those above the glass ceilings.
These are our top 10 suggestions to activate the hashtag:
1. Hire and promote more women
Research shows consistently that companies with more women in management have fewer instances of sexual harassment. This is partly because harassment flourishes when men feel pressured to laugh along with the sexualised behaviour of their colleagues and superiors. Many women then internalise this misogyny and, yes, become offenders as well.
2. Protect workers, don’t just reduce liability
This is an issue identified in multiple papers. As Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in the Harvard Business Review explain, “Executives … have installed training and grievance procedures and called it a day. They’re satisfied as long as the courts are. They don’t bother to ask themselves whether the programs work.”
3. Don’t penalise those who lodge complaints
Around a third of people who formally complain are demoted, fired or – believe it or not – further harassed. Several large-scale surveys show people who file complaints are much more likely to lose their jobs than those who experience similar levels of harassment and say nothing.
4. Provide multiple avenues of redress
Many large workplaces around Australia provide anonymous whistleblower hotlines. These are confidential electronic systems, operated by an external third party, allowing employees to report harassment. Sometimes the report is embargoed until someone else complains about the same person, to expose serial harassers.
A note of caution here: this was put in place at a television network in this country, but few people use it because of a lack of trust in the workplace.
5. Take responsibility as leaders
CEOs must take a strong public stand against harassment and keep repeating that message. They should be first in line for training, and chair the committees tasked with solving the problem. Training must be mandatory for all levels of management – not just staff.
6. Train to change behaviours, not attitudes
In 2017, the writer Nora Caplan-Bricker warned that telling people what not to do tends to trigger their “inner toddler”, causing defiance and tantrums.
Trying to impart knowledge and skills – for example “this is what harassment looks like”; “this is what you can do if you witness harassment” – works better than trying to change attitudes. Managers need to feel like they’re part of the solution.
7. Implement bystander training
Sadly, people who enter sexual harassment training with the most biased attitudes tend to exit having learned the least.
As Claire Cain Miller explains in the New York Times, “Bystander training equips everyone in the workplace to stop harassment, instead of offering people two roles no one wants: harasser or victim.”
At its heart, this is about having a conversation with a friend about the way they talk about women.
8. Reward managers and staff for an increase in incidents
This sounds counterintuitive. But fundamentally, we are all really tall children. Offering us a treat now and then is incredibly motivating.
We know that most women don’t report harassment for fear of retaliation, or fear that it won’t be taken seriously. The way to fix this is to reward managers if harassment complaints increase, at least initially, because it means employees have faith in the system.
You can’t solve a problem you can’t see.
9. Take strong disciplinary action against offenders
Our investigations at Fairfax and the ABC revealed a system that promoted the perpetrators, and silenced, sidelined or sacked the survivors.
Sometimes, HR departments characterise sexual harassment complaints as examples of poor management or interpersonal difficulties, rather than as violations of the law.
There need to be consequences and follow-through.
10. Put your money where your mouth is
Consider making compliance with sexual harassment guidelines a condition of doing business. Especially if you have a family business: it reflects your values.
This is the perfect way to amplify your influence. After all, money talks.
But so does storytelling. Yes, we need data. Certainly, policies and procedures are important. But my story of the Yummies Bar; your stories, and those of your family, friends and colleagues – these are the solid foundations of the #MeToo movement.
As Gloria Steinem once said, “You can’t empower women without listening to their stories.”
We must continue to speak our truth – for the sake of our daughters AND our sons – so the next generation doesn’t have to live through this horror.