People with disability
Representation of people with disability at all levels is an important step to ensure equality and reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment.
While there is limited data, what is available suggests that people with disability are more likely than those without disability to have experienced workplace sexual harassment.
According to Everyone’s Business: National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (2018), in the previous five years, 52% of women and 35% of men with disability said they experienced workplace sexual harassment, compared to 39% of all women and 26% of all men. Other Australian research has similarly found that women with disability were twice as likely to say they had experienced sexual harassment at work than those without a disability.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2016 Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination report confirmed that people with disability experienced discrimination at high levels, and that discrimination on the basis of disability was a significant barrier to employment. The report also noted that labour force participation rates for people with disability in Australia were low.
The Respect@Work Report highlighted the clear connection between disability discrimination in the workforce and sexual harassment. As Women with Disabilities Victoria stated in the Report:
as women with disabilities, we know that our experiences of sexual harassment overlap with our experiences of harassment, abuse, discrimination and workplace bullying, on the basis of our disabilities
The Respect@Work Report also highlighted a number of important issues, namely:
- sexual harassment against people with disabilities was often connected to persistent discrimiunatory attitudes, stereotypes and marginalisation in work settings;
- attitudes of paternalism made workers with disability feel ‘less equal at work’ and could result in inappropriate behaviour;
- low employment rates of people with disability are be a factor in workplace marginalisation;
- women and girls with disability could be subject to people ignoring or stereotyping their sexuality;
- there’s a cultural assumption that women with disabilities are not sexual or they’re asexual;
- workplace power dynamics hierarchies and unequal power relation in workplaces could increase the risk of sexual harassment and create barriers to reporting for people with disability;
- workers with disabilities were reluctant to report sexual harassment because they thought they would not be taken seriously or there were assumptions made about their capacity. There was also a lack of access to information and advice that was appropriate for people with disabilities.
While these are challenging issues to address for many organisations, one positive action and primary prevention strategy that can be adopted is increasing the employment rate of people with disability. Having more people with disability in the workforce means more organisations are better positioned to understand and address the issues of disability employment discrimination and marginalisation.
The IncludeAbility initiative from the Australian Human Rights Commission has been specifically set up for:
- employers who want to create meaningful employment opportunities for people with disability, and
people with disability seeking employment, developing a career or considering self-employment.
Take a look at this introduction to IncludeAbility from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Ben Gauntlett:
Visit the IncludeAbility website for more information.