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Violence against women and children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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RESEARCH REPORT

“Just another day in retail”: Understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in the Australian retail industry 

This report found that sexual harassment in retail is common, normalised and harmful. It calls for employers and industry stakeholders to prevent and respond to the potential harms, including to employee wellbeing, career progression and earnings, team cohesion, and the success of businesses and the national economy. 

This project was conducted by a team at the University of Sydney led by Professor Rae Cooper and Professor Elizabeth Hill. The project offers insights into the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment in the retail workplace, related organisational policies and training, and how employers and industry stakeholders can improve responses.

The study featured:

  • analysis of four large pre-existing datasets
  • informant interviews with leaders in the retail industry, including representatives from large employers, retail and industry associations, and retail unions
  • focus groups with retail employees and supervisors.

The findings indicate the significance of the problem, with retail workers describing sexual harassment as just “part of the job”. Key findings are as follows:

  • Sexual harassment in the retail workplace is experienced by retail workers as routine and unavoidable, influenced by industry norms and narratives such as “the customer is always right”.
  • A range of people perpetrate sexual harassment including managers, colleagues and customers.
  • Sexual harassment in the retail industry can take different forms, including sexually suggestive comments and jokes (62%), followed by intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance (45%), and staring or leering (41%).
  • Certain groups of retail workers are at higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment, including young workers, women, workers living with a disability and gay men.
  • The retail industry must improve its organisational policies, training practices and reporting processes to better prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.
  • Ad hoc, limited and non-standardised data collection constrain effective industry action on sexual harassment.

The report outlines a suite of recommendations targeted at governments, industry, employers and managers, including highlighting the importance of tailored responses for “high-risk” groups.
 

Read summary & recommendations

 

 

Publication details

This work is part of the ANROWS research reports series. ANROWS research reports are in-depth reports on empirical research produced under ANROWS’s research program.

This research was produced under the 2021–2024 ANROWS Sexual Harassment Research Program (SHRP).

 


Authors

RAE COOPER
Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations, Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, The University of Sydney Business School
Director, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

ELIZABETH HILL
Professor of Political Economy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney
Deputy Director, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

SUNEHA SEETAHUL
Senior Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

MERAIAH FOLEY
Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, The University of Sydney Business School
Academic Member, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

MARNIE HARRIS
Research Officer, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

CHARLOTTE HOCK
Research Officer, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney

AMY TAPSELL
Research Officer, Australian Centre for Gender Equality and Inclusion @ Work, The University of Sydney


ISBN: 978-1-922645-87-6 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-922645-86-9 (PDF)


Suggested citation

Cooper, R., Hill, E., Seetahul, S., Foley, M., Harris, M., Hock, C., & Tapsell, A. (2024). “Just another day in retail”: Understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in the Australian retail industry (Research report, 04/2024). ANROWS.

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