Earlier this week, there was a fiery exchange on ABC’s The Drum between journalist Jane Gilmore and John Adams, an economist and former Coalition advisor.
Adams, it seems, is a proponent of the Donald Trump school of sexual harassment prevention — and I hope upon further reflection he realizes that this is very poor company to keep.
As you may recall, when Trump was asked how his daughter Ivanka might respond if she was sexually harassed at work, he said, “I would like to think she would find another company if that was the case.”
Let’s go to the videotape:
When asked by Drum host Ellen Fanning what other option women have to raise concerns, other than going to the media, Adams responded, “In my professional career, there have been two instance where I was personally bullied, and what did I do? I literally quit the next day.”
He then helpfully added, “Everyone has a responsibility. If you see wrongdoing in the workplace, you have to stand up, even if that costs you your career.”
Gilmore was quick to reply: “Are you suggesting that if somebody is sexually harassed at work they should leave? Is that what you’re suggesting?”
Clearly not recognising the obvious hole he had dug for himself, Adams reached for the shovel one more time, stating that women shouldn’t “allow” the behaviour to continue and they shouldn’t “put themselves” in that situation.
Gilmore then stated the obvious. Women had not “put themselves” in that situation, sexual predators did. And if they leave, they would experience significant financial hardship.
The exchange has now gone viral, racking up nearly a half million views on Facebook alone. Many a woman out there is likely to put Gilmore at the top of her list for the 2017 I call bullshit award. (I know I am.)
The thing is, even though — as Gilmore rightly pointed out — women shouldn’t have to leave their jobs, in the absence of any real efforts to otherwise address and prevent sexual harassment in our workplaces, many do.
Adams and Trump are not alone in their tendency to rely on this form of “prevention”, and that’s the problem.
Two new studies, both released this year, show the extent of the problem and the price women pay.
Published in the journal Gender and Society, the Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women found that 80 percent of women who reported unwanted touching or other forms of harassment at work changed jobs within two years. That’s 6.5 times more than the normal workplace churn.
Heather McLaughlin, the author of the study, followed up with the women over the longer term and found that they experienced significant financial stress as a result – with many leaving the industries they were working in entirely.
Another new study on Tech Leavers from the Kapor Research Center found that 56 percent of women who say they have been sexually harassed say it contributed to their decision to leave their job. The research also found that turnover due to unfair treatment, including sexual harassment, cost the tech industry $16 billion annually.
The Weinstein accusers featured many stories of careers cut short, or women driven out of the industry.
The loss of talent and potential is unforgivable.
Writing about this phenomenon on her Facebook page earlier this week, US-based writer Rebecca Solnit said, “This is the point we’ve been making about workplace harassment and assault: it drives women out of their profession, costing them both personally and economically, maintaining a misogynistic status quo. Like racism, it’s designed to do this, to punish, exclude, keep down.”
The measure of success — the extent to which the current “reckoning” really changes anything – will be judged by whether this kind of research, if repeated in say five years’ time, shows a significant reversal.
If we want to have a meaningful conversation about “prevention”, we certainly can’t carry on suggesting women leave their jobs. But employers also can’t rely on training programs (which have had a negligible result) or even an improved complaints procedure, though that is needed and part of the solution.
The latter will only get us so far.
We need culture change in our workplaces, effective bystander programs and more women in leadership.
Only then will the Trump school of prevention be relegated to the dustbin of history.