Retail staff are exposed to ‘unacceptable’ levels of abuse and sexual harassment, according to a new report.
The study found one in five retail workers has experienced sexual harassment in the past five years.
The perpetrators include superiors, other workers, in addition to customers.
The Gendered Disrespect and Inequality in Retail Work report
The report is called Gendered Disrespect and Inequality in Retail Work.
The University of Sydney in addition to the Australian National University conducted the study of men and women working in the retail sector.
The authors surveyed 1,160 workers in late 2021, in addition to in-depth interviews with 30 senior leaders in the retail industry.
Retail staff exposed to ‘unacceptable’ levels of sexual harassment
In addition to sexual harassment, more than half of those surveyed considered customer abuse to be a problem in the workplace.
Discrimination law expert Miles Heffernan described the report’s findings as “disturbing”.
“Frontline retail workers perform a vital role in our economy. The levels of abuse in addition to sexual harassment they report is clearly unacceptable,” he said.
“Everyone has a right to a safe workplace that is free from abuse and harassment.”
Men in senior positions
Meanwhile, lead author, Professor Rae Cooper, said the research revealed that despite women dominating the retail industry, men are more likely to rise to the most senior positions.
“Women are vital to the success of retail; they account for 57 percent of the retail workforce and make up approximately 75 percent of consumer spending decisions in families,” she said.
“Yet they remain severely under-represented in senior leadership roles within the retail industry, holding only 27 percent of board positions and 17 percent of chief executive officer roles.”
Barriers to addressing these behaviours include inadequate training and also a lack of support from senior leaders and boards.
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Retail work ‘undervalued’
Meanwhile, Professor Cooper is calling on employers to provide adequate training to prevent gendered abuse and harassment in retail workplaces.
“The undervaluation of retail work is a significant problem for the industry. This is reflected in low pay and also a lack of recognition of retail skills and capabilities,” she said.
“Retail work has changed considerably in the past decade and workers need considerable skill to undertake their roles, yet research suggests workers in retail do not feel valued and respected.
“This disrespect contributes to the persistent issues of sexual harassment and customer abuse, particularly directed at women.”
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