One in 10 Australian working women experienced sexual harassment: landmark national survey

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Australian Workers
Office workers head to Flinders Street Station in central Melbourne February 10, 2011 Reuters/Mick Tsikas

One in ten of Australian working women believe they have experienced sexual harassment and fewer than a third feel that they are being treated equally, a new landmark national survey has found. Only 31 percent of females believe men and women are treated equally in the workplace.

Researchers at the University of Sydney surveyed over 2,000 women and 500 men across the country for the Women and the Future of Work study as they aimed to look into women’s experiences and attitude at work. The participants are aged between 16 and 40.

The findings of gender inequality, which came ahead of International Women's Day on Thursday, is alarming, according to one of the report's co-authors. But Professor Rae Cooper said that the result was not surprising in some aspects. What is shocking for Cooper is that over half of the women who responded to the survey thought that workplaces in Australia are unequal. Some think that men are treated better than the women in the workplace.

"In some respects it's not surprising that women have that view, because we know that women face some really serious gaps and traps in their work and in their careers,” the ABC reports her as saying. It was found that working girls often feel "disrespected" by senior colleagues due to their gender. Highly paid professionals and low-paid workers are experiencing the same.

Dr Elizabeth Hill, one of the five co-authors, said that it is surprising to see women rank “respect” as the top thing they value in the workplace ahead of having a well-paying job. The level of women dealing with sexual harassment in their current jobs is also shocking. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Hill as saying that the study identified “gaps and traps” women fall into in modern workplaces.

Researchers have also learned that 10 percent of female respondents reported having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Cooper said that 200 of 2,000 women reported experiencing sexual harassment.

Cooper clarified that there is a lot of underreporting of sexual harassment, so the number of women dealing with it is possibly higher. Harassment and physical touching are certainly alive in the workplace, the survey shows.

Some groups reported greater levels of harassment. Eighteen percent of women with a disability, 16 percent of women from linguistically or ethnically diverse backgrounds and 14 percent of women studying reported to have experienced harassment.