It was 1983. It was my first job. I was at the work Christmas party on the roof of the building. I was wearing a yellow and white chequered sundress and matching yellow shoes. I felt pretty and grown-up. I loved that dress. And I was the epitome of innocence.
An 18-year-old church youth group leader, shy, sheltered, and just finding my way in the wider world, dating her first proper boyfriend. I had been chatting and friendly with the man in the next office, joining in with the silly fun that happened at work. I guess I was flirting but I wouldn’t have recognised it as that. He had made me laugh and I was so happy that my humour also made him laugh. I thought he was being friendly. He was the same age as my father.
Whilst it was not rape, it was a serious assault, in a cupboard that I was dragged into. I didn’t tell anyone. Who could I tell? I had flirted and had a glass of wine. I felt it was my fault. I didn’t know how to use my voice. I never wore that dress again.
In 1983, these things were not openly discussed and I had no idea what had happened to me. Back then, women had even less of a voice and certainly no avenues that are now provided in the workplace to support women through this.
I have been working for over 30 years. There have been many instances of harassment and discrimination. All of it I learned how to handle or fought against. Always I sought help from other women. Women have always been my champions. And I have been a staunch supporter and protector of women for all my career.
This week, I have been outraged, distraught but also helpless as I have followed Brittany Higgins story. And the reports of subsequent rapes by the same man. I have seen our leaders gaslight her, refuse to take responsibility, and try to find ways to manage without damaging their political brand. And they are failing big time. The Liberal party seems to have a problem with women and as our Government, what does this say to us about how women are valued in our society?.
Why is this still happening? Who is looking after the women in Parliament? In the corporate world, we have HR. Sometimes flawed but always with the best intentions to get the right outcome. I tell a story of my time in HR walking into a serial predator’s office and asking him to stop harassing his staff with loads of expletives thrown in. It did the trick but not before some women were hurt in the process. I probably could’ve and should’ve handled it better but sometimes you just get so angry.
Does it feel like women are going backward in the world? The Handmaid’s Tale just feels more and more like it could become reality – and I will end up the colonies dying a slow death – we all know I am not going to make the cut as a Martha. Under His Eye feels a little bit closer every day. Women are not being supported in the workplace and we are being discriminated against – even today.
A recent article on ABC News highlighting the Bureau of Statistics report said that women were let go in greater numbers during COVID and that those with degrees were more likely to be let go. Dr. Leonora Risse who spoke at our HERoes event last year is quoted as saying:
“Going forward, there is a threat to gender equality, seeing disproportionately more women staying at home, working from home, not being present in the office to work their way up the ladder”.
“And if they have to switch into a new job because the job opportunities have dried up in their previous industry, then they’re staring at the bottom of the ladder again.”
Are women being erased from importance in the world of work? Are we being silenced?
Are we back to choosing between career or children? I hope not. Some of us are better people for not being full-time mothers.
I am an optimist. But I think now is the time to fight again. To ensure our place and our voice in workplaces is heard. That our women are supported and encouraged to succeed.
Madeleine K Albright was quoted as saying, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Take the time to read her opinion piece on the quote. I take what she has said to heart. Women have to help other women. We need to support, encourage and actively create opportunities and safe places for each other. She goes on to say that younger women need to hear from us what it was like before it was conceivable there could be a female leader.
We need to vote with our feet. We need to be informed and make informed decisions on where we work, vote, and live. Move from companies and organisations that don’t support us. Don’t give them our money. Don’t give them our time. Hold them to account.
We need men as allies. We need our men to step up and fight. To loudly say, this is not right. To support us when we are also at work, taking on the burden of home life. To be our heroes. I would give a shout-out to Brittany Higgins partner, David Sharaz who this week had to resign from his job dealing with government ministers for a variety of reasons. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Being supportive is the least that I – or any other partner of a victim-survivor can do,” he said. “Brittany and many others deserve better.”
At the end of April, we are putting together an event where the majority of our speakers are female-identifying. It’s based on an event we did virtually last year. It was three days of amplifying the voices of women in HR, Talent Acquisition and People Analytics. We are doing it again. With a new name. HERoes. We will be talking about how we can help our organisations achieve their business goals through partnership and evidence-based approaches to the people agenda. We will be inviting our men who we consider allies to share their thoughts. You can bet your bottom dollar that we will be covering how females and all people can feel safe and valued in the workplace.
Every woman should have a voice. I have found my voice. It took a while with lots of learning but it’s there and I will not be silenced. I stand with Brittany Higgins and all those that have suffered in the workplace because of their gender or minority status. I admire her courage and praise the strength she has shown. May we all be as brave.