Here we are again.
After weeks of pent up anger fueled by outrage, when women have not just been speaking up but hitting the streets in their thousands over sexual harassment, a familiar scapegoat has reappeared.
The last few days has seen a lurch to an age-old formula. Instead of maintaining the focus on the overwhelming problem of male privilege and entitlement in power structures where men are vastly over-represented, the dam has broken.
The senior women of the LNP are at fault; the mental state of the woman at the centre of allegations about Christian Porter; boomer feminists (my cohort) and of course there have already been references to the general behavior of young women who dare to drink and socialize just like men.
Victim blaming isn’t new. Centuries of feminism have triggered strong backlash with women told they only have themselves to blame for pesky patriarchy.
Talk about diverting the attention from the real culprits: a system run by wall-to-wall men with women usually left out of decision making, their value dismissed, and their needs ignored along with their invaluable unpaid labour.
Yet as this critical social movement centred on workplace treatment of women unfolds a cone of silence appears to have surrounded our business leaders.
Instead of nagging women about lacking confidence, it appears a few of these bastions of industry could do with a dose.
Certainly there’s not much progress for many of them to show after years of talk. This is apparent in the continuing reliance on ‘zero tolerance’ when the asked what they are doing about sexual harassment at work.
Zero action, sadly, would be more accurate.
When I wrote a book called Stop Fixing Womenin 2017 it was a despairing attempt to circuit-break the generally ineffective approaches to address the gender gap in many organisations, despite the rhetoric.
Instead of fixing women, by sending them to remedial courses and embedding the stereotypes that cause the problem in the first place, it was high time for a different focus.
My research suggested identifying and removing bias and sexist assumptions that underpin recruitment and progression, and seriously lobbying for affordable and accessible childcare and a tax system that helps rather than hinders women’s job tenure.
Since then scores of women (and a few men) have found that message an eye-opener. Rather than blaming themselves for behavioural traits common in most humans, or believing the bollocks written about women having an innate lack of confidence, they realized something profound.
If it was just them stuffing up, why did so many other women face exactly the same treatment and barriers? Turns out ‘leaning in’ was failing to break up the old boys’ club.
Those defects women are told are the problem? They are the symptoms and not the cause of sexism and bias. Of women being shut up in meetings, then castigated for their failure of nerve. Or being told the gender pay gap was due to poor negotiating skills.
The playing field is nowhere near even and it’s certainly not fair. Women didn’t design it and they usually don’t run it.
The way ahead is not about finding innovative new ways of tackling the systemic problem. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ recommendations from the comprehensive review, Respect@work, make it clear there are many steps that can be taken right now to make workplaces safe for all.
But the lack of intention is glaring. For all the talk, there has been very little real commitment to the needs of half the workforce and population.
Instead there is deflection and blame. Dodging and defending the status quo by powerful blokes who should know better. And cries of ‘not all men”.
But it is, or course, about nearly all women who have faced some form of harassment. Time to get the priorities straight.
Women are hardly perfect, and make mistakes just like other humans.
But society continues to judge half of the population harshly, expects them to be ‘better’ and then blames them for letting down their gender. Not a burden faced by most men.
If these weeks and the marches around Australia do nothing else it should remind our bosses that they have a crucial role to play in ensuring safety in their offices, factories, and shops.
To show the women who work for them they have been listened to and taken seriously.
Any employer that fails to understand this is about core risk and safety principles is facing an unsustainable future.
Fix the workplace, not the women.