Why don't women report sexual harassment? They fear Amy Taeuber's fate

Why don’t women report sexual harassment? They fear the fate Amy Taeuber faced

On Monday evening the ABC’s 7.30 program broadcast a report by Louise Milligan on a promising cadet journalist Amy Taeuber who was fired from Channel Seven in Adelaide after making a complaint against an older member of staff.

It was sobering viewing.

A senior male reporter had made a number of disparaging comments to Amy about her appearance and marital status. In a staff meeting he said she was a lesbian on account of one in three women being gay and the fact she is a triplet. Rather than fob his remarks off, Taeuber made a complaint.

The fate she faced as a result is exactly the fate so many women fear in the face of harassment. The more powerful party was protected and she was collateral damage.

A few days after lodging her complaint Taeuber was summonsed by HR to a meeting and told she was being subject to an investigation. The support person she had brought with her, the chief of staff, was immediately asked to leave and she was then informed she was being suspended. Her phone was removed and she was escorted from the building.

Initially a website run by Amy’s sister, Kate, was tabled as an issue before the network alleged Amy had been accused of bullying a fellow cadet, who had not made a complaint.

Tauber recorded the meeting with HR and the audio is damning.

After the HR manager is adamant she cannot have a support person present in the meeting and then informs her suspended, Amy is disbelieving. She asks if the meeting is real and when she’s told it most certainly is, she quickly gets to the nub of the issue.

“I’ve worked so hard to get this job and I know people are just trying to get rid of me now and it’s just really upsetting,” Taeuber says. “I don’t really deserve any of this for standing up and having a problem with someone calling me a lesbian.”

It is true. She doesn’t deserve to lose a job she had worked doggedly to secure, a role she was evidently competent in, because she was unwilling to accept the lewd behaviour of an older staff member. And yet deserved or not, she did.

Amy lost her job and has had to fight a legal battle to have her rights enforced. The man who behaved badly in the first place remains safely employed.

iI that’s not ignominy enough, since the ABC aired its report the chair of Channel Seven, Jeff Kennet, has fought back suggesting the report was inaccurate.

The 730 anchor Leigh Sales refuted Kennett’s claim and said Channel Seven had been contacted for the story and there is a standing invitation for any member of the board or senior management to have an interview.

It is a seriously dispiriting story to behold. A grim reminder of workplace dynamics, all too common, that favour the powerful and exploit the powerless.

The most despairing aspect of Amy’s experience isn’t just that the media has lost a talented reporter. It isn’t just that a young woman building a career she always wanted had that thwarted. It isn’t just that a company would so readily eat its young. The most despairing part is the fact it isn’t at all surprising.

Women who speak up in the face of harassment are rarely rewarded with anything other than exclusion.

And that will remain the reality until there are enough leaders of companies, directors of boards, and managers of people, who are willing to stand up against individuals who contravene the standards of behaviour we ought to expect in workplaces.

Until the powerful stand alongside women like Amy, rather than pit themselves against her, the misbehaving shall prevail.

That is the dreadful truth of it but there is a tiny glimmer of hope and its come in the form of solidarity for Amy among so many in the media and, most critically, shareholder backlash.

Channel Seven’s share price has dropped since ABC’s report. May it be a sign of things to come? Shareholders unwilling to accept this type of conduct might well be the only thing that forces change at the top.

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