Women of print say #Me Too

Since the Weinstein scandal broke in October last year, the #Me Too movement has resulted in an explosion of awareness around women being sexually assaulted and harassed, particularly in the workplace.

Women have stepped forward with their experiences from industries of all kinds, from entertainment to sport, politics, hospitality, science and medicine. The movement naturally spread to Australia, which is not exempt from the issue, being placed as a lowly 35th in gender equality in a global index by the World Economic Forum.

According to Shine Lawyers, sexual harassment cases have more than doubled in Australia since the #MeToo movement sparked. The company saw incoming phone calls go from 341 requesting general help around the issue in the month to 645 with Me Too gaining traction. Sexual harassment has been illegal in Australia for 30 years, but with one in four Australian women reporting experiencing it at work, it is clearly not uncommon.

And print is not exempt from the issue. The industry, while progressing, is still largely dominated by men. In 2014, ProPrint found in a poll that 46 per cent of 147 Australian female printers said sexism is everywhere, with a further 10 per cent saying it is getting worse, despite women owning numerous print businesses, and there being initiatives such as Women in Print.

Jane*, a printing engineer, told ProPrint her own experiences of sexual harassment within the industry. She says, “As soon as the MeToo campaign started I wondered how long before the average workplace was outed. Being a female printing engineer both here and in the UK I have come across many situations where this has happened.

“I have been touched, groped and worse by males in power and positioned above me. As a young engineer making my career I never said a word and just took it as what I had to deal with.

“More recently in Australia it has been nowhere near as bad but both customers and colleagues still felt it is ok to touch or brush up against me. I am in the fortunate position to be self-employed now, however still get the occasional customer who wants to touch.

“I started out as a demonstrator on printing machines. Back then we would earn commission on sales made from our demos so the sales reps (all male) would pick favourites. So if a salesman touched my butt or breast I did not say anything, as I would not get the demos therefore no commission.

“At trade expos often while alcohol was being consumed they thought it would be ok to touch and try to kiss me, again I laughed it off as I did not want to damage my career and appear not to be able to hack it in a man’s world.

“On one occasion I was cornered by a senior staff member who took things further and I slept with him because I knew if I didn’t he would make progression in the company very difficult. As I travelled around the country (UK) I was free from the sales and office staff but I still found other engineers and customers (general printers) found it ok to touch and talk down to me. At the time I was in a long term relationship but could not say anything to my partner because he would probably think it was my fault.

“I did report one instance to my office where a customer grabbed my butt, the guy in charge said ‘come on luv being in this job you must be up for it or are you a dyke or frigid’. I told the customer to get f****d and walked out without fixing their machine. After reporting it I was told to go back in apologise and fix the machine, the customer was a key account and it was probably a misunderstanding. I refused to go back in and stuck to my guns and a fellow engineer went in to complete the job.”

For other women within the industry, they had not experienced any form of sexual harassment within print, nor had they seen or heard of it for their other colleagues.

Karen Goldsmith, NSW Women in Print patron and general manager at Visual Connections says, “We work in a heavily male dominated workforce especially within the senior management space. I cannot speak for other women in this industry but for myself I simply focus on doing my job as professionally as possible and I find that building solid working relationships with my Board and others within the industry helps.”

For Kellie Northwood, CEO of print lobby groups Two Sides Australia (TSA), Australasian Catalogues Association (ACA) and Australasian Paper Industry Association (APIA) says while she herself has never experienced sex discrimination within print, the industry has an obligation to be proactive in preventing it.

“I support the #MeToo campaign, and for that matter, any campaign that encourages people to speak out against prejudice. Equality for all regardless of gender, sexuality, religious, race and more should be embraced by us all and we should be raising these issues in a sophisticated society to evolve and always improve.”

“I have a social conscience, like anyone else. I feel pretty strongly about social justice, I have faced a bit of sexism myself. My husband was born in Malawi, he has faced a bit of racism here.

“Print is male dominated, but less so now. I generally find it a piece of cake, my male colleagues have always been quite chivalrous and protective. I saw far more sexism in advertising.

“This industry, by its very nature, holds a brutal honesty. It is one filled with honour and integrity – we work hard and deliver quality products for our toil. With this in mind we hold an natural respect and openness to taking people on their merits, rather than a preconceived or prejudicial stereotype. There are some still on the journey, my view is to bring those people with us and educate them on where they can improve.

“I have literally had conversations with industry peers who were oblivious a simple comment. At times this is the important opportunity to make change through awareness and education. Other times, campaigns like #Metoo provide the appropriate support to speak up and as a community shut down intolerable behaviour.”

Unions can step in and help workers, the AMWU says employees can seek orders from the Fair Work Commission for bullying to cease. Workplace Health and Safety can also be approached to investigate workplace harassment and the Anti-Discrimination Commission and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal can accept and conciliate complaints about discrimination and sexual harassment.

Lorraine Cassin, national print division secretary at the AMWU says, “The AMWU supports the #MeToo movement, it has shone a light on the issues women can face at work, although we have not yet seen much exposure on ordinary working women.

“Unfortunately, women can face harassment in any industry and print and packaging are not immune to this. Print is still a largely male dominated industry, although we are seeing more women enter the workforce.”

The AMWU has legal and industrial experts that can provide workers with advice and support if workers are being bullied or harassed along with providing a counselling service for members and their families, AMWU Care.

Cassin says, “The union has supported many female members who have faced harassment at work, and we will continue to do so. Fortunately, we see very few incidents of assault – bullying and harassment are more common.”

Over in the UK, gender difference in print is being made clear at the moment through the government’s initiative to make all companies with more than 250 staff publish their gender pay gap data. Only one firm in the industry has a pay gap in favour of women, HP Inc UK, which pays its female employees an average hourly rate 4.1 per cent higher than men’s. Book printer Clays, a subsidiary of international marketing services group St Ives, reported its mean pay gap for women as 24 per cent lower than what its male employees make.

Gender differences in Australian print are not as clear, with there being no concrete data on salaries for the sexes, or women’s experience of sexism and harassment. The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting its fourth national survey on sexual harassment, which for the first time will include industry specific findings.

Print may be about to discover if it does have a problem.

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission says, “Obtaining the data will allow us to analyse whether there are any industry specific trends or issues which are contributing to the prevalence of these behaviours. The data will also provide guidance to employers to develop more targeted interventions to prevent sexual harassment and to meet their legal obligations to employees.

“Taking steps to prevent sexual harassment within workplaces and universities has the potential to effect change in Australian society more broadly. The change we need is to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something women simply have to put up with.

“A shift in community attitudes – respectful attitudes to women, taking victims seriously, not trivialising behaviours or shifting blame, understanding that everyone has a role to play – will result in policies and complaints processes being followed more rigorously than they have been.

“While it should never have been necessary for them to do so, the women and men who have spoken out publicly  about these behaviours have shown incredible courage and strength. They are owed action on these issues.”



#MeToo spurs on research across industries

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting its fourth national survey on sexual harassment, with the results being due mid year.

The study, which takes place over 6-8 weeks, has been expanded from 2,000 to 10,000 participants. As well as expanding the number of participants, the survey will for the first time provide data on sexual harassment within major industry sectors along with being partially conducted online. The Commission says the expansion was triggered by MeToo. It hopes that better understanding of the scale and nature of these issues within particular industries will enable it to provide government and business with an evidence base for developing targeted strategies and policies aimed at preventing workplace sexual harassment.

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission says, “Over the past six months, the global conversation has exposed the magnitude of sexual harassment in our workplaces and communities and the harm it causes to individuals. The #MeToo movement has created an appetite for change. It is essential we build on the momentum and continue working to prevent sexual harassment.”


The data on sexual harassment in Australia

The Commission defines sexual harassment as any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual.

In its personal safety survey two years ago, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that one in two women in Australia had experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. In that year, one in six or 17 per cent of women experienced sexual harassment, which increased from 15 per cent in 2012. The number increases in younger age groups, for women aged 18-24, 38 per cent experienced harassment. When assaulted, the majority of women, nine out of ten, did not contact the police.

The Commission’s last sexual harassment survey in 2012 asked specifically about the workplace, where it found one in four women has been sexually harassed at work. In 2009 to 2010, 21 per cent of all complaints to the Human Rights Commission were under the Sex Discrimination Act and 88 per cent of those complaints were related to sex discrimination in the workplace.

The Commission says harassment can be a barrier to women participating in fully in paid work and says it can undermine their involvement in organisations and business, which naturally can hold them back and be a further barrier to women progressing to higher positions.

Commissioner Kate Jenkins says, “As the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I am committed to fighting gender inequality and the drivers of gender violence. I am working with leaders in media, sporting codes, universities and our defence forces to change the organisational cultures that allow sexual harassment and sexual assault to occur.

“By learning from the work already done in Australia, gathering data, engaging leaders and the workforce, changing attitudes, improving responses, advancing gender equality and holding ourselves to account, I am confident we can accelerate change.”


PIAA procedure for dealing with sexual harassment

The Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA), which is currently dealing with a case of sexual harassment, has policies and guidelines in place for its members.

Paul Mitchell, industrial relations manager for the PIAA, says, “The industry as a whole has zero tolerance for sexual harrasment and assault. We take it seriously, whether it is a male or female who is involved. When we get a call from a member that someone has made a complaint, we ask whether the member has a policy in place.

“The first thing we have to do is make sure the victim is safe and in a position to talk with their employer and then we need to get to the bottom of the claim to find out how serious it is. You can decide on whether to take action.

“In the last 30-40 years, there has been a cultural shift. If it is an innocuous comment, we look at intent. If it is not deliberate or malicious, just reckless, we need to educate rather than punish. We encourage our members to seek education, they get a policy handbook and they can contact us.”



The print industry is already struggling to bring in new blood. The industry’s Printing and Graphic Arts Industry Reference (IRC) produced a draft review of training in print earlier this year and it ruled that attracting maintaining new talent appears to be stemming from three core issues; reputation of the sector; working conditions and prospects; and an ageing and static workforce. With women making up half of the workforce, the industry should be mindful of what obstacles there could be for females to join.

Reflecting upon her experience, Jane* says, “Being in a male dominated trade means I could never be equal to my counterparts, I had to be better. So that is what I became although a lot of engineers find that hard to handle. I hope times have changed as this happened 20 years ago but I fear not.

“Being older and wiser I do not think anyone would subject me to any of this now but as a 21 year old starting out it was hard and I did want to give up.”

Other women in print say it has been hard for them to enter the workforce in the past, but some are hopeful for the future, saying it lays in diversity.

Northwood says, “I think print is far more progressive and more compassionate than we give ourselves credit for. Many companies, print groups have shown a lot of leadership. IVE for example have shown commitment to diversity.

“Now we have lots of great women leaders, such as Karen Goldsmith and Debbie Burgess. When I started, there were no women leading. It gives me optimism for young women coming in, it will be less intimidating for them.

“I think if a woman is working in a company, and they feel there are barriers to them progressing, leave, they do not deserve you. If you are a woman looking to build your career, you should leave and go elsewhere. Companies like that will not last long because the world is rich and diverse. There are diverse and good companies that have good people working there.

“We need to talk about it however and be aware and aim to educate ourselves.

“We need to commit ourselves to diversity. Companies should be holding up a social conscience.

“We should make policy that is realistic. But change has to not only be in policy, it has to be cultural. Any company that has a good community in place has to act accordingly. Many companies in print will look around and realise they are already diverse employers.

“Both ACA and TSA have diversity policies which are committed to inclusion. However I would like to call on the industry to build an initiative that promotes industry discussion to educate, communicate and prevent discriminatory behaviours. Further, to implement industry-wide a common commitment to diversity would be an industry first and well recognised.”

Goldsmith says, “Our focus at Women in Print is to develop women’s professional networking and education skills and to provide encouragement for career development. Given the statistics around the value of a diverse workforce (and by this I not only mean inclusive of gender but of race, age, religion) it would be great to see more companies within our industry embracing diverse leadership and workforce as different thinking brings more innovation and a myriad of other benefits.”  

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One thought on “Women of print say #Me Too

  1. I have witnessed (and been the victim of) sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in a the workplace. I was very young and afraid to speak up for fear of being ostracised or worse, losing my job. Being brought up to fear authority didn’t help either the situation either; you know it’s wrong but back then there was nothing you could do about it. There are still dinosaurs (and their prodigies) out there who don’t think it’s a problem and honestly, I can’t wait for all of them to be held responsible for their behaviour. I’m angry with myself that I never spoke up for those women.

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