Australian public servants are more likely to be sexually harassed when they are managers

Demi Moore and Michael Douglas in the 1994 film Disclosure.

Sexual harassment is commonly portrayed as the male supervisor harassing a young female subordinate.

However, a study of the Australian public service shows that middle aged women in positions of power are more likely to be sexually harassed.

While women were generally far more likely to be harassed than men, their chances did not decrease as they came into positions of power.

“Females with supervisory authority between 30 and 44 years of age … are more likely to be sexually harassed compared to their counterparts without such authority,” writes researcher Jan Wynen at the University of Antwerp’s Research Group on Public Administration and Management.

“A possible explanation for this could be the fact that as they are climbing the career ladder, they are not yet experienced in dealing with sexual harassment, while older women with supervisory authority have become more competent in dealing with potential harassers.”

She says more women are are climbing the career ladder and breaking the glass ceiling.

“Yet the organisational and legal responses to sexual harassment have not kept pace with this evolution.

Sexual harassment is often still merely regarded as the male boss abusing his position in the workplace to harass his female secretary.

“The reality proves to be far more complex and it is necessary for organisational policies and training to reflect the diversity of harassment experiences.”

The study, published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, was based on the 2014 Australian public service census of 102,219 government employees.

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