If it's going to costs bosses millions just because of normal sexual responses and differences between employees, who would want to hire the whiners?
Your boss pats you on the bottom and a male colleague remarks on your breasts. An after-work drink is followed by a series of lewd text messages and, at a male-dominated meeting, jokes are made about explicit email images. For hundreds of Australian women each year, this kind of unwanted sexual attention is just part of the daily grind. Thousands more encounter a far subtler form of sexual discrimination - structural inequity in workplaces where men in dark suits still dominate.
In the past two years, in Britain and the United States, banking leaders and international law firms have been forced to pay millions of dollars to women workers treated differently because of their gender. In Sydney, a $10 million landmark sexual discrimination case due before the Federal Court in February for the first time alleges that a culture of systematic discrimination exists at the nation's largest accounting firm. Senior PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Christina Rich claims she was sexually harassed by several partners at the firm, and that her career and those of other women were stymied by a "culture of discrimination, bullying and harassment". The 41-year-old also says partners discouraged her from speaking out and victimised her when she made a formal complaint. Rich says she was labelled "scatty", "emotional" and "high maintenance" by a senior partner.
It may well be years before the case concludes, but it has prompted predictions that a flurry of lawsuits will ensue from senior women fed up with hitting their heads on the glass ceiling. University of Sydney academic Associate Professor Catharine Lumby believes that by demanding financial compensation for discrimination, women are finally talking the sharemarket's language.
"Money is what will make people listen," Lumby says. "It's not as simple as a whole lot of men walking around saying 'we hate women'. It's that the worlds of work and private lives are still absolutely separate and for many women that means that issues that matter to them, such as child care, are deemed irrelevant." That sexual discrimination still thrives is because women are seen as "sexual beings", Lumby says.
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