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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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ANROWS was established by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments of Australia to produce, disseminate and assist in applying evidence for policy and practice addressing violence against women and their children.

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To support the take-up of evidence, ANROWS offers a range of resources developed from research to support practitioners and policy-makers in delivering evidence-based interventions.

IN BRIEF

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

This is an ANROWS summary of the research report Just another day in retail”: Understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in the Australian retail industry (2024)

 

Context

Key findings

Key practice and policy recommendations

Links to existing ANROWS research

References

 

Context
  • Retail is a vital national industry. The industry employs 9 per cent of all Australians, is the second largest employer of Australian women, is the third most feminised industry in the country,1 and the second largest employer of young workers.
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace harms employee wellbeing, career progression and earnings, team cohesion, and the success of businesses and the national economy.
  • Despite the significance of the retail industry in Australia, there is limited research available on sexual harassment in retail workplaces.
  • This research aims to understand the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in the retail industry to inform policies and practices to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment.
  • This research employs mixed methods, including analysis of data from four large surveys, key informant interviews (retailer, employer and union), and focus groups with managers and workers across a range of retail employment contexts.
  • The report is also timely given the new legal obligations under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) requiring proactive measures to prevent unlawful conduct related to sexual harassment (positive duty).

Key findings

Sexual harassment in retail is common and normalised.

  • 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 in the retail industry.

  • Retail workers experience sexual harassment from a range of perpetrators including managers, colleagues and customers.
  • Experiences of sexual harassment in retail are gendered, with men more likely to be perpetrators and women more likely to be targets.
  • The report draws upon four large datasets to show, in the past 5 years:
      • Men were the perpetrators in 86 per cent of sexual harassment cases in retail.
      • 48 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment in retail.
  • Customer- or client-perpetrated sexual harassment accounted for 36 per cent of incidents.

Sexual harassment in the retail industry can take different forms.

  • The most common form of sexual harassment was sexually suggestive comments and jokes (62%), followed by intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance (45%), and staring or leering (41%).
  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault and sexually explicit pictures and gifts were reported, but less common (6% and 9%, respectively).
  • Most workers who experienced sexual harassment suffered from a variety of unwelcome behaviours (69% of male targets and 79% of female targets) rather than a single form of harassment (31% of male targets and 21% of female targets).

Certain groups of retail workers are at higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment.

  • Age and gender were identified as the most prominent risk factors. Young women are a particularly high-risk group.
  • Other groups at high risk of experiencing sexual harassment include workers living with disability and gay men.
  • Further research is needed to understand the interaction between worker characteristics, job types and industry contexts.

The retail industry must improve its policies and practices to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.

Organisational policy is often inadequate and difficult to apply in practice.

  • Organisational policies and processes lack consistency and many retail workers find it hard to locate, access and understand them.
  • Specialist managers (human resources and work health and safety managers) lack the resources they need to address sexual harassment in policy and practice.
  • Supervisors and store managers need better resources, training and support as the “frontline” in dealing with sexual harassment.

Training on sexual harassment must be improved.

  • There are significant variations and shortcomings in the frequency, content and types of training provided.
  • Suggestions for improvements to training included delivering training face to face and regularly, and explicitly addressing sexual harassment in training materials, including relevant real-world scenarios and bystander intervention strategies.
  • Managers also need tailored training relevant to their role.

Reporting processes for sexual harassment in the workplace must be improved.

  • Retail managers have varying levels of understanding of complaints processes and what to do in response to sexual harassment.
  • Most workers lacked a detailed understanding of their organisation’s complaints processes and the options available for reporting incidents of harassment.
  • Workers have concerns about the confidentiality, integrity and effectiveness of reporting processes.
  • Workers face challenges when reporting sexual harassment due to a lack of timely action, downplaying or dismissal of reports and ineffective or opaque outcomes.

Ad hoc, limited and non-standardised data collection constrains effective industry action on sexual harassment.

  • The lack of robust and standardised data collection on the nature and frequency of workplace sexual harassment in the retail industry challenges effective action and leads to under-reporting.
  • Robust data collection and analysis are essential to improved industry-wide investment and action to reduce sexual harassment in retail.

 

 
Key practice and policy recommendations
  • Develop industry-wide strategic responses to sexual harassment involving collaboration between retail employers, the major retail union and relevant government agencies.
  • Harmonise data collection and increase industry data sharing to build knowledge on the nature and extent of sexual harassment in retail workplaces.
  • Develop tailored strategies to address the needs of specific workforce groups, particularly those who are at high risk of experiencing sexual harassment in the retail workplace.
  • Deliver regular, high-quality, customised training to workers and managers on sexual harassment in the retail workplace.
  • Ensure “safe staffing” practices to build safer workplaces. For example, ensuring sufficient staffing levels during high-risk periods like store closing time.
  • Improve access to information, transparency and reporting mechanisms for sexual harassment in the retail workplace.
  • Upskill and empower supervisors and managers to respond to sexual harassment in the retail workplace.
Links to existing ANROWS workplace sexual harassment research

 

Report number Name Suggested citation Date published
Research report 1 “Just another day in retail”: Understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in the Australian retail industry 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 7 June 2024

 

STATUS OF PROJECT: COMPLETE
REFERENCES

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2022, August 11). Characteristics spotlight: 2022. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/articles/characteristics-spotlight-2022

Flynn, A., Powell, A., & Wheildon, L. (2024). Workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment: Perpetration, responses and prevention (Research report, 03/2024). ANROWS. https://www.anrows.org.au/publication/workplace-technology-facilitatedsexual-harassment-perpetration-responses-and-prevention/

Segrave, M., Wickes, R., Keel, C., & Tan, S. J. (2023). Migrant and refugee women in Australia: A study of sexual harassment in the workplace (Research report, 06/2023). ANROWS. https://www.anrows.org.au/publication/migrant-and-refugee-women-inaustralia-a-study-of-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/

 

 

SUGGESTED CITATION

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2024). “Just another day in retail”: Understanding and addressing workplace sexual harassment in the Australian retail industry [In brief]. ANROWS

 

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1. Over half (56%) of retail employees are women, making it the third most feminised industry in the country after health care and social assistance, and education and training (ABS, 2022).

RESEARCH PROJECT

Technology-facilitated sexual harassment in the workplace: Perpetration, responses and prevention

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RESEARCH PROJECT

Migrant and refugee women’s attitudes, experiences and responses to sexual harassment in the workplace

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RESEARCH PROJECT

Sexual harassment of LGBTQ young people in the workplace and workplace training

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RESEARCH PROJECT

Evaluation of the Respect@Work Council

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