Standing Committee on the Status of Women Monday, April 22, 2013 Chair FEWO

Standing Committee on the Status of Women Monday, April 22, 2013 Chair FEWO
Standing Committee on the Status of Women
Monday, April 22, 2013
Ms. Marie-Claude Morin
Standing Committee on the Status of Women
Monday, April 22, 2013
● (1800)
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon (Miramichi,
CPC)): Good afternoon, everyone.
We have published some of this work, but as you'll appreciate, the
academic pathway to publishing is a long one and there is still a lot
of work which hasn't quite hit the public realm.
The order of the day is pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), study
of sexual harassment in the federal workplace.
We are happy today to welcome by video conference all the way
from Brisbane, Australia, Paula McDonald, who will speak to us for
10 minutes. Following that, due to the short time that we have
because of a vote in the House, we will share the questioning time of
five minutes for each party. We will have to be very exact with our
time. I don't like to intrude and interrupt all the time, but in this
situation I really must in order to keep us on time and get us back to
the House in time for the vote.
I welcome all of you, especially Paula McDonald. You may begin
right away please, for a total of 10 minutes.
Professor Paula McDonald (Business School, Queensland
University of Technology, As an Individual): Hello. I thought I'd
begin with a synopsis of my experience in the area of workplace
sexual harassment in order to put some parameters around the scope
of my work and experience in the area.
I am a professor of employment relations in the business school at
the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.
I’ve held an academic role for the last 10 years, prior to which I had
clinical and research roles in the health sector. I’ve studied the
phenomenon of workplace sexual harassment for most of the last 10
years, but most intensively in the last three years through an
Australian Research Council-funded large grant.
In this project my co-investigator, Associate Professor Sara
Charlesworth from the University of South Australia, and I explored
a number of what we feel to be important data sets which comprised
in-depth interviews with over 70 expert policy and practitioners from
around Australia. We interviewed 30 targets of sexual harassment
and talked to each of those for a couple of hours. We have looked at
published legal decisions over the time. We've analyzed around 400
media articles from Australia, the U.K., Canada and the U.S. The
most intensive and we think innovative part of the project involved
an analysis of around 300 detailed hard-copy files of sexual
harassment complaints from all nine federal, state and territory equal
opportunity jurisdictions. In looking at that data we saw detailed
patterns of the nature of complaints, the characteristics of the people
involved, how complaints proceeded through formal alternative
dispute resolution mechanisms, and the nature of settlement
outcomes, including financial settlements.
Concurrently, while undertaking this research, I have worked
closely with the Australian Human Rights Commission in developing two successive prevalence surveys on workplace sexual
harassment that were administered to a largely representative sample
of the Australian population. These kind of prevalence surveys,
particularly over time, are somewhat unusual in the world. I’ve also
written an extensive report for the Australian Human Rights
Commission that discussed the critical role of bystanders in
preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment.
The committee members are no doubt well aware of the continued
prevalence of sexual harassment and its damaging consequences, so
in the time I have left I thought I would briefly review some of the
key findings from our work that really point to the ongoing
challenges beyond the prevalence and consequences of sexual
harassment. I believe these issues warrant specific further attention
in order to redress what's a persistent, pervasive and obviously
gendered problem. I can only raise these issues briefly, but there may
be some issues that you may want to pick up in terms of further
First, our research showed—and this is very important—that
grievance mechanisms in organizations were frequently inadequate.
Indeed, many of the complaints we saw that escalated outside of the
workplace to commissions were as much related to dissatisfaction
with organizational processes as they were to the sexually harassing
behaviours per se. Key concerns were around formal and informal
channels of reporting; long timeframes in responding; issues around
vicarious liability and legal risk; line managers who dealt with
complaints as an interpersonal issue rather than a legitimate concern
that required attention; and reprisals experienced by targets who
reported the problem.
April 22, 2013
Second, we have argued for a focus on bystanders in more
effectively preventing and responding to sexual harassment.
Bystander interventions have been found to be very effective in
other areas of violence prevention, including dating and intimate
partner violence, and we argue could be potentially adapted to the
workplace. Our empirical work in the area showed that sexual
harassment has ripple effects that extend well beyond the individual
target in that bystanders—and we define bystanders broadly—both
within and outside the workplace can and do have active roles in
supporting the target and preventing further incidents. However, we
also found, unfortunately, substantial evidence of bystanders who
could have acted but did not act, and worse still, of bystanders who
joined in with the behaviours. This had particularly devastating
consequences for targets.
that the parties come to the table with some kind of motivation to
restore and repair the relationship at hand.
● (1805)
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): Thank you very
Third, we've argued that sexual harassment is too often
characterized as a sexual advance by one individual, a bad apple,
towards another, the victim. In particular, sexual harassment is often
thought of as salacious conduct by a male boss towards a female
subordinate. This characterization, we argue, relegates the problem
to the private sphere and identifies it as one that should be
principally resolved between one individual and another, while
neglecting the fact that some work settings are more oppressively
gendered than others. We've argued that different workplace contexts
can shape the perceptions of workers, the conditions and power
dynamics that underpin sexual harassment, and also, importantly,
non-sexual forms of harassment and discrimination that disadvantage women and some men. We concur with Margaret Thornton that
these more subtle forms of discrimination and harassment may
actually reveal more about gendered practices in organizations than
the blatant sexualized conduct that's often equated with the high
profile media cases that we read about.
Fourth, evidence from details of settlements of sexual harassment
complaints in equal opportunity files showed that even within the
acknowledged individualized limitations of alternative dispute
resolution, or ADR, which is that the process fails to address
broader systemic issues that allow sexual harassment, ADR is
limited in what it can provide sexual harassment complainants. For
example, our data showed that complainants rarely achieved an
acknowledgement of wrongdoing and injustice, and that's often what
they came to the process seeking primarily. The process is also
limited in providing financial compensation. Our data showed that
the main financial compensation in these cases was around $8,000
Australian. This hadn't changed a lot over time, and in fact, this
figure is slightly inflated because it also included, in some cases,
statutory employment entitlements, including annual leave.
Another important finding from the analysis of complaint files
was that only around one in six complainants remained employed in
the organization where the sexual harassment allegedly took place.
We think it's possible that the severing of employment relationships
is a particularly problematic issue in relation to sexual harassment
compared to other forms of discrimination because it's a particularly
personal and affronting issue. Nevertheless, the fact that few
complainants remained employed in the organization where the
sexual harassment took place is problematic for the conciliation
process, because it is an interest-based process in which it's assumed
Finally, the essentially privatized nature of the conciliation process
works to constrain the ability of both parties, but particularly the
complainant, to come to the table with informed perspectives. We've
argued for a more systematic aggregation and publication of deidentified data so that both complainants and respondents can come
to that process with more informed perspectives.
That concludes my opening statement.
● (1810)
We'll begin our questioning with Ms. Truppe, for a round of five
minutes, please.
Mrs. Susan Truppe (London North Centre, CPC): Thank you,
Madam Chair.
Thank you, Paula, for being here today. It's nice to finally have
your report with us. It's a very important study that we're doing.
Your 2012 article entitled, “Encourage. Support. Act! Bystander
Approaches to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”, highlights the
importance of the intervention of bystanders in the response to
incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Two of the reasons
you highlighted as a reason people do not report incidents of sexual
harassment in the workplace are fear of reprisal or the expectation
that the response, once the incident is reported, may be inadequate.
You also note this has to do with the difficulty of recognizing the
harassing behaviour as harassers do make efforts to keep their
behaviour from being recognized, making it difficult for bystanders
to identify the act and support the victim's claim. What sorts of
training solutions would you propose to prevent harassment in the
first place? What sorts of training solutions would you propose to
empower and encourage bystanders to speak out?
Prof. Paula McDonald: There are a lot of issues there. We've
proposed in that report and also subsequently a framework of
prevention and response that takes a primary, secondary, and tertiary
Training is an important part of primary prevention. There is, I
think, a need for evaluative research to objectively analyze the
effectiveness of particular training programs, but in our interviews
with them, expert practitioners advocated training approaches that
were complex, in the sense that they used both a carrot and a stick
approach, the stick approach being to inform employees that sexual
harassment is illegal and that there will be discipline and punishment
for those who perpetrate it. The carrot approach is a more humanistic
approach in training wherein professional codes of conduct are at the
heart of them and whereby people attending training can use
scenario-based sorts of approaches to play out sexual harassment.
April 22, 2013
The trainers use other sorts of strategies that our expert
practitioners advocated around making clear that sexual harassment
is not just the typical salacious conduct between a male boss and a
female subordinate, but a very complex phenomenon that can be
perpetrated by either men or women, and particularly by men against
men as well, which is a common problem.
In terms of bystanders, there's very little empirical evidence of the
way bystanders behave in workplaces, but in our empirical work,
which is currently unpublished but under review, we used a twodimensional framework that looked at the level of involvement of
bystander behaviours and the immediacy of the involvement. We
found that most bystander interventions or bystander actions—
because it wasn't just active interventions, but also the providing
support to the target—were relatively lower level and relatively nonimmediate. There was a wide variety of actions taken, but they were
oftentimes lower level and sometimes just based around support.
● (1815)
Mrs. Susan Truppe: How long do I have, Madam Chair?
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): You have 30
seconds left.
Mrs. Susan Truppe: What sort of training should be provided to
supervisors and management in order to make this possible, so that
more bystanders are involved at a higher level? If you could answer
that very quickly, that would be great.
Prof. Paula McDonald: From the work that I've done, I would
advocate a collective underpinning to a training program, in the
sense that people who work together have a collective and collegial
responsibility to look after one another and to understand the subtle
gendered processes that often occur in organizations. These often are
covert and not well understood by employees.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): Thank you.
We'll now move to Ms. Ashton for five minutes.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill, NDP): Thank you very much for
joining us, Ms. McDonald; it's a real pleasure. Thank you also for the
first time that you tried to join us. Our schedule is quite hectic, but
we appreciate your time and the fact that you're sharing such critical
work with us as well.
I understand that one of the research projects you're working on is
called “Sexual Harassment in Australia: Causes, Outcomes and
Prevention”. Can you tell us a bit about the causes of sexual
harassment, as you have found them?
Prof. Paula McDonald: As to the causes of sexual harassment,
it's important to note that sexual harassment comes in many varied
shapes and forms. As I've alluded to, the typical sexual harassment
scenario that we often read about in the media, and which employees
understand, is the salacious conduct between a boss and a
subordinate. But it comes in various manifestations and the
behaviours range from sexual assault, which is a criminal offence,
right through to very subtle language that permeates organizations. I
think these more subtle forms of gendered organizational processes
are almost the most problematic in terms of causing sexual
harassment, because they're not widely recognized.
In our research, we found that a lot of sexual harassers are serial
offenders, and that organizational processes don't adequately deal
with those harassers. These men are often Teflon-coated. I'm not sure
if that's a Canadian term. They're often not disciplined as a
consequence of their behaviour, so they're given licence to continue
to treat women in very demoralizing ways.
Ms. Niki Ashton: Ms. McDonald, I'm wondering if in your
research you've found that the causes vary by workplace, across
different industries, or between the private sector and the public
sector. Have you seen any differences there?
Prof. Paula McDonald: We've seen no great differences, and I
think that's actually been an important finding of our research. It's
still the case that male-on-male sexual harassment is often a problem
in male-dominated workplaces, particularly in blue-collar maledominated workplaces. I think it's important to note that sexual
harassment is widespread across a whole range of different
workplaces. Having said that, the mining industry in Australia is a
blue-collar male-dominated industry, but it seems to really have its
act together in terms of adequately preventing the problem.
It's not so much about whether the organizations are public sector
or private sector, male dominated or female dominated, gender
balanced, or even the industry it occurs in. It's often not so much
about an entire organization, but the particular context of a work
group, that sort of milieu. I hesitate to use the word “culture”, but at
the department level, it's the ways and practices that are embedded in
work systems which allow sexual harassment to flourish. I think
that's more important, or it seems to be more a problem than
divisions between public and private, small and large, male
dominated and female dominated.
● (1820)
Ms. Niki Ashton: You've argued for systemic aggregation of deidentified data around all forms of discrimination, including sexual
harassment. Can you inform us of why the collection of such data is
so important?
Prof. Paula McDonald: The collection of that data is very
important particularly for complainants because complainants often
come to the conciliation or ADR process with absolutely no idea of
what to expect, of how much financial compensation to seek, or what
other non-financial settlement outcomes might be possible. It is in
order to inform the perspectives of both complainants and
respondents, but particularly complainants, because they often have
less power in the processes that ensue.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): Thank you.
We'll now move on to Ms. Sgro for five minutes.
Hon. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.): Thank you, Madam Chair,
and thank you for being here, Ms. McDonald.
Much of what we have heard in relation to some of the particular
departments we have been dealing with has more to do with the
whole culture of the organization. I think just changing the person
who is at the head of a very large organization sends a message that
any kind of harassment, including subtle remarks and those kinds of
things will not be tolerated. Is that enough to shake up and change
the attitude in a organization that's predominantly male?
Prof. Paula McDonald: Leadership is absolutely important.
Those messages that sexual harassment won't be tolerated do need to
come from the highest levels of any organization. However, I think a
really important and missing piece of the puzzle in terms of that
leadership is that leaders need to create practices in organizations
that deal adequately with sexual harassment after it has already
So yes, primary prevention is important, but secondary prevention
is really where a lot of organizations are falling down. Our work has
really shown this very clearly. The way investigations take place and
the timeliness of responses to complaints of sexual harassment are
incredibly important not only for the individuals involved, but the
way those complaints are handled sends clear messages to everybody in the organization that the organization and the leadership
team are competent in dealing with discrimination in all of its forms
and that the problem won't be tolerated.
Hon. Judy Sgro: We heard from a professor last week at our
meeting who, similar to you, Ms. McDonald, had done a lot of work
on the issue. The professor pointed out that especially where there is
a female working in a male-dominated culture, the pushback often
comes out of concern for their own jobs as males. They have a
female now working beside them in a similar capacity, and generally
the women tend to be assertive and outspoken, and the men feel
threatened by that. The consequence is a variety of harassment
techniques that are often used on the women.
What are your comments on that?
● (1825)
Prof. Paula McDonald: Yes, I would agree, again, that maledominated organizations can be like that, but oftentimes femaledominated organizations have a concentration of men at the top as
well. This kind of issue can be a problem in those organizations as
April 22, 2013
I also want to say it's important to note that in a lot of sexual
harassment—in fact in more than 50% of cases in the Australian
Human Rights Commission prevalence survey—the harassment
comes from co-workers, not from people in more senior organizational positions. That probably needs to be more widely understood,
because it's a different kind of phenomenon. Even when men and
women work together at the same level—from a feminist or
gendered perspective—men often hold the cards in organizations,
even if they're working at the same hierarchical level.
This is what I meant. It's important to understand sexual
harassment as a multi-faceted and complex phenomenon. If those
kinds of nuances were better understood, it would allow targets to
name sexual harassment more frequently and more appropriately,
and also to come forward and report it more often, because that's
obviously another problem. Reporting levels are very low, around
one in five, actually.
Hon. Judy Sgro: Thank you very much.
Are there any last comments that you would like to make, Ms.
McDonald? I have 20 seconds. I'll let you add anything that you
think the committee should know.
I'm sorry that we've put you in such a spot. Essentially we've run
out of time.
Prof. Paula McDonald: It's all right.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): Thank you very
much, Paula, for being with us today, and giving us such worthwhile
words of advice. We hate to be rushing like this, but that's just the
way it is here when we're called for votes.
Thank you.
Prof. Paula McDonald: No problem. It has been a pleasure.
Thank you.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Tilly O'Neill Gordon): Thank you very
Are there any other questions?
Seeing none, the meeting is adjourned.
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