Retailer applauded for taking quick action

Article by Mary-Anne Toy /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
June 19, 2010 /
Click here to view original /

CORPORATE Australia will have to pay more than lip service to sexual harassment and other unethical behaviour after the David Jones case because key stakeholders including shareholders and employees were fed up, experts said yesterday.

Michelle Greenwood, a lecturer and researcher in business ethics at Monash University, said that after the global financial crisis the public was much less forgiving of corporate excess.

”Corporate governance these days is about creating systems and organisational cultures which ensure that key stakeholders like employees … feel that they matter to the firm and their interests will be protected. That’s the key to why they’ve moved so quickly in this case,” Dr Greenwood said.

”The days of not holding senior executives to account have been completely destroyed by the poor behaviour of senior executives internationally and in Australia. That’s the mood at the moment.”

Management experts and academics also praised David Jones for dealing with the issue publicly and promptly.

Keri Spooner, of the University of Technology Sydney’s School of Management, said the chairman of DJs, Bob Savage, had been ”refreshingly transparent” in the press conference on the issue. ”Sexual harassment has been allowed at the top of organisations and senior people have gone to enormous levels to cover it up. I really hope this approach of David Jones marks a turning point in Australian business,” Dr Spooner said.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, said sexual harassment in the workplace was alive and kicking.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2008 report, Sexual Harassment: Serious Business, found that 22 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men had been sexually harassed in the workplace. This was an improvement from five years earlier, 2003, when 28 per cent of women and 7 per cent of men surveyed reported they had been sexually harassed at work.

But the number of complaints under the federal Sex Discrimination Act has soared 25 per cent from 2008 to 2009 and continues to increase.

The number of sexual harassment complaints, which are a subset of sex discrimination complaints, have leapt 33 per cent in that period.

Ms Broderick said the vast majority of victims did not make a formal complaint, with many saying they either did not trust their company’s processes or they feared retribution or discrimination. She said there was continuing confusion about what constituted illegal behaviour. Of those surveyed in 2008 who said they had not been sexually harassed, 22 per cent went on to report having experienced behaviour that may constitute sexual harassment.

This behaviour ranged from unwanted or repeated hugging, kissing or being cornered, intrusive questions about their private lives or appearance or sexually suggestive comments or offensive jokes, to attempted or actual rape or assault – but those surveyed did not think it constituted sexual harassment.

Lauren Rosewarne, a University of Melbourne lecturer in public policy, said it was good media management for the company to release the story but it was crucial that the details of what Mark McInnes had done to the female employee be made public because there was too much confusion about what constituted sexual harassment.