Opinion

Protecting perpetrators in the media industry – let’s not pretend it’s a profit thing

Diversity Council Australia's CEO Lisa Annese explains that the media's ongoing sexual harassment revelations are not just an issue for women, but hold the key to the viability and the wellbeing of the entire workplace.

Tracey Spicer’s ongoing investigation has raised serious accusations of pervasive harassment and abuse of power in the media industry.

In the midst of the #metoo campaign as Weinstein’s allegations unfolded, Spicer tapped out a tweet asking women in the Australian media and entertainment sector to also come forward.

And come forward they did: she has since received calls and emails from some 500 women identifying 65 men in the industry who were allegedly ‘serial offenders’.

I’m deeply saddened and moved by these findings, but not surprised. There is a pervasive culture of protecting and promoting alleged harassers, discrediting complainants and ultimately making women too scared to put their complaint forward.

This culture of fear – not the fear of harassment but of complaining against it – is one we’re still grappling with.

We know because last week, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) released a national study on inclusion in the workplace. It validates the anecdotes, showing that these are not just random exceptions to the rule in the workplace but evidence of a pervasive culture of sex-based harassment – a ‘hostile’ work environment. We found that younger women (under 30) are highly likely to have been harassed at work – one in four in the past year.

We also found younger women (under 30) are two-and-a-half times more likely than older men (55+) to have been harassed in the past year (25.8% versus 9.8%).

Validating Tracey Spicer’s suspicion that women in her field would have stories to share, our findings showed that the information, media and telecommunications sector has the worst record for harassment of workers, along with the accommodation and food services and construction sectors.

Moreover, workers in information, media and telecommunications were significantly less likely to experience inclusion at work:

Their organisation was much less likely to be taking action to create a diverse and inclusive (D&I) workplace.

These employees were also much less likely to support their organisation taking D&I action.

Employees in this sector also reported the highest percentage of employees having personally experienced harassment and discrimination in the past year and of working in non-inclusive teams.

It’s interesting to question why Australia’s media industry – which provides an eternal lure for many young journalists – performed the worst.  Maybe it’s the field’s long-standing reliance on networks and reputations? The centralisation of power by media giants orchestrated by a few at the top? Or perhaps it’s the competitive work environment that sees employees’ bargaining power dwindle?

On these front lines, only three per cent of Australian workers surveyed in DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index study did not support their organisation taking action to not only stop harassment – but also actively build a culture where religion, gender, age or sexual orientation were not determinants of what respect or value their employees felt and received.

Of particular note is that men were less likely to support or strongly support their organisation taking action (69%) than women (82%), and this relatively lower level of support was more evident among men from Anglo-cultural backgrounds (65%), men who were older (66%) and men who had no caring responsibilities (68%).

Although scarce in numbers, that is still the demographic of many men in senior management across Australia – with media being no exception.  

Is it that a number of highly powerful men do not want to invest because it hasn’t happened to them personally and can’t see the financial return from addressing it? They haven’t experienced or possibly witnessed the pain and impact that harassment and discrimination cause.

Protecting professionals who have been and continue to be made to work in unsafe hostile environments where they’re bullied, assaulted and silenced according to their gender is, without doubt, a social issue. But further to that, it’s also a significant issue for the wider workplace and industry itself.

A ‘boy’s club’ and abusive culture in the media industry will not protect the profit margins. Rather, they will stifle performance. They will drain the best and brightest. And they will inhibit innovation – something we in Australia can ill afford.

The data is there. The heart-rending stories are there. The suffering is there. And it’s now time for these media outlets and owners to act on this – not as a PR or women’s issue that they will take time out of their day for, but as a core issue to the viability and the wellbeing of their entire workplace.

Ultimately, this issue is about more than your ratings and your star’s performance. It’s about the durability of your entire business, and hiding behind the profit argument is not, and never was, enough.

Lisa Annese is Diversity Council Australia’s CEO.

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