When the right man for the job is a woman | WISE Workplace

According to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Government, in January 2008 almost 4.8 million women were in some form of paid employment and 58 per cent of all women were employed. Women are represented in significant numbers of small business operators - 30 per cent of Australia's small business operators are women, and in government and public sector positions: women make up more than half of the Australian public service workforce (57 per cent) and hold around 36 per cent of senior executive positions. In the private sector, however, women hold only around 12 per cent of management jobs.

The spread of women across industries varies widely with some professions being predominantly female and other professions struggling to attract women into their workplaces.

Women represent more part time workers, more casual workers more maternity leave and flexible work arrangements whilst men continue to be the gender more often working regular hours in full time, permanent employment.  Men are also more unionised and as such often have a stronger voice in the workplace than women.

In a survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Management Victoria and Tasmania, (AIM) on Retaining Women in the workplace, 60% of respondents believed that a male orientated work environment was a reason women were underrepresented in senior management. Whilst 50% of university graduates are female, only 17 % of senior executives are women.

Some workplace issues affect women more often and more severely than men. In particular: bullying, harassment and discrimination. When asked in the AIM survey if their work place encourages a culture of equality for men and women, 33% either disagreed or were undecided.

In over 300 cases of workplace misconduct conducted by WISE Workplace Investigations, the perpetrators of bullying were just as likely to be women as men, the victims however were far more likely to be women.  

In sexual harassment cases, whilst the victims are still women the perpetrators are much more likely to be men. A study by McDonald, Backstorm and Dear reported in HR Monthly March 2009, reported on 531 cases of reported sexual harassment through the Queensland Working Women Services (QWWS) between 2001 and 2004 noted that in only 4 of the cases studied were the perpetrators female.

Responding to the sensitive and delicate issue of bullying and harassment can be fraught with dangers for poorly prepared management, particularly if the dominant culture is male. 

Where sensitive issues of sexual misconduct are alleged establishing the details of the allegation alone can cause problems for organisations. In one case handled by WISE Workplace Investigations, our services were requested following a complaint of sexual assault against a woman by a male supervisor. A rapid response was necessary as the complaint had been made in a workers compensation claim faxed to the HR department and the organisation had no senior female employee to conduct an interview with the complainant to establish the details.  WISE provided a suitably qualified female investigator to ascertain the details and the mater was later referred to police.

In another case a department called for a review of practices at a vehicle maintenance yard when one of only two female trade staff resigned and sited ongoing sexual harassment as the reason for her resignation. The complainant, a young female with less than five years in the workforce had not felt sufficiently comfortable with any of the available on-site managers to disclose how she was feeling. She felt disempowered and unable to make any difference to her workplace. The complainant chose to resign from an otherwise well loved job rather than risk upsetting any of her mail colleagues by raising issues of inequality and harassment.

A female investigator was assigned to conduct in-depth interviews with the complainant to develop an understanding of the issues that she had faced. The interview data was used as part of a full review of working conditions. A full report with recommendations was provided to senior management advising on how to make the workplace more equal for male and female staff, reduce the risk of sexual harassment, and attract and retain more women in the face of an overwhelming male culture.

Men and women bring different skills to the role of investigator, organisations should think about the situation that they need handling and consider the gender of the investigator before commencing an investigation. Company's that can provide a range of investigators with different strengths and abilities are more likely to be able to meet the specific needs of individual complainants, witnesses and respondents.

Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.