Accounting for the Diversity of Women’s Experiences in Surveys
Sexual harassment of women in the workplace has received growing attention in the past decade and is recognised as a substantial human rights and public health issue, with significant ramifications for workplaces and communities (Willness, Steel & Lee 2007). Nationally, this is reflected in recent legislative amendments:
- In 2022, the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022 (Cth), introduced a positive duty on employers and persons conducting business or undertaking (PCBUs).
- In 2023, the Fair Work Act was amended to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and is now considered as a form of ‘serious misconduct’.
These efforts reflect a commitment to eliminating gender-based violence and harassment, and ensuring safe working environments for women.
Underpinning and driving these efforts for change is the growing body of research that have sought to bridge the significant gaps in current knowledge pertaining to sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes studies examining the impacts of workplace sexual harassment (Birinxhikai & Guggisberg 2017), its risk factors, preventative measures and responses (Champions of Change Coalition 2021, Healey 2018, Saunders & Easteal 2013, Wynen 2016), and issues around underreporting (MacDermott 2020, Charlesworth, McDonald & Cerise 2011).
Since 2003, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has also regularly conducted national surveys into workplace sexual harassment, with the fifth iteration released in 2022. The survey has offered important insights and data on the prevalence and nature of workplace sexual harassment in Australia. However, there remain significant gaps in accounting for the breadth of diversity and intersectionality of women’s experiences of violence and harassment. Specifically, migrant and refugee women were captured only through a single variable of ‘language spoken at home.’
This gap has prompted the development of an ANROWS-funded study (ANROWS 2022) focusing on migrant and refugee women’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Utilising a mixed-methods approach of large-scale surveys, focus groups and interviews, the study builds on existing knowledge of workplace sexual harassment to further contribute to the national picture of the diverse experiences of migrant and refugee women.
This research brief maps out the role, contribution and limitations of utilising large-scale surveys in gender-based violence research in Australia, specifically in relation to workplace sexual harassment.