Survey: Bad conference behaviour and inappropriate comments still a problem in financial services

Survey: Bad conference behaviour and inappropriate comments still a problem in financial services

Judith Bec
The culture of financial services is changing for the better but sexual harassment is still an issue along with bad conference behaviour, according to the findings of a small survey initiated by Financial Executive Women (FEW).

Judith Beck (pictured above), the founder and chief executive officer at FEW, says that while her experience of interviewing leaders in the sector suggests sexual harassment is not widespread, the survey does raise concerns, especially regarding knowledge of just what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.

The FEW membership survey, which has so far attracted 120 responses in a week, found 37 per cent of women feel that sexual harassment is a major problem in the industry, particularly at conference events.

Overall the survey found that:

  • They (respondents) feel the culture is changing for the better, however still dominated by older men who don’t have filters
  • A number of respondents shared comments focused on need for more education on what is acceptable and what isn’t, also concerns raised about what is acceptable to one that may not be acceptable to someone else
  • Many respondents shared comments on conference behaviour, which is seen as a problem

Here is a breakdown of what some women reported:

  • Several comments about after work drinks turning into flirtation and drunk employees being taken advantage of
  • Inappropriate comments and boundaries regarding personal space/lingering and touch
  • Comments on appearance and bad taste jokes
  • Comments about both male and female staff stalking other staff
  • Comments that conference behaviour goes too far, especially when alcohol is involved

After officially opening for submissions this week, The Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into sexual harassment in workplaces will spend months gathering information ahead of public consultations later in the year.

“I believe the inquiry will tell us something we already know. Hopefully the results will focus on more of what we can do going forward to prevent it in the future and ensure awareness and education for everyone in every industry,” says Judith.

But for the financial services industry, which has long been known for having a history of a boys club culture and an underrepresentation of women, it could mean more cultural change.

The inquiry also comes as the industry awaits a key report relating to damning revelations made earlier this year during the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

The survey also found that 20 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the sector, and that it mostly related to:

  • Inappropriate comments made by men and women as well as clients
  • Inappropriate text messages
  • Inappropriate material being shown on the computer in the office in full view.

Judith says that rather than wait for the inquiry to recommend workplaces changes, there are things that employers can do now to improve awareness and process for dealing with sexual harassment.

  1. Clearly define what sexual harassment is. Have an education course that is mandatory at induction and every two years. Online, one-hour and with the staff member acknowledging their understanding with multiple choice questions to engage and real-life video examples of what happens in the work place. Make sure there are no grey areas.
  2. Have a go-to person internally who specialises in handling the situation and assessing sexual harassment. Someone who will keep information confidential and will act as an adviser to the employee on what to do next. If a smaller organisation, this person could be an external source, however it needs to be clear who they are, and confidentiality must be guaranteed.
  3. Look at a specific policies for work functions/conferences, regarding alcohol and what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Ensure employees know what is work time and what is personal time.

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