Shire survey uncovers sexual harassment

Issues uncovered: Campaspe Shire Council has uncovered a sexual harassment issue. Photo by Cath Grey

Campaspe Shire’s People Matter Survey has uncovered a sexual harassment issue that has resulted in a consultant being engaged to conduct focus group sessions.

Ten per cent of respondents to the shire’s People Matter Survey indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the 12 months prior to the survey results being released.

The focus groups were not specifically designed to address sexual harassment, but the survey results as a whole.

A report delivering results from the survey was delivered to the July meeting of council, showing that half of those “sexually harassed’’ staff members attempted to ”laugh off’’ the actions.

The second most common response to the harassment was to “pretend it didn’t bother them’’, with none asking to take time off work or request a transfer.

Only 13 per cent of the survey respondents told their manager, double that amount told family and friends, while several chose to avoid areas of the building that opened them up to the behaviour.

Only 30 per cent of Campaspe Shire’s 510 employees chose to take up the opportunity of responding to the survey, which took the form of a five-category questionnaire based on the council’s Gender Equality Action Plan.

Twelve key staff recommendations were made from the consultation sessions that were conducted following the delivery of survey results.

Among those a recommendation to introduce a zero-tolerance to bullying, taking action for poor behaviour and improving communication to staff.

Additional questions were asked of the shire employees who indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, with the aim of understanding the type of behaviours suffered by the staff.

Intrusive questions accounted for 50 per cent of the responses, while suggestive comments and inappropriate contact were also mentioned as areas of concern.

Staring or leering was the final category, the responses — according to the author of the survey report — was “consistent with the results Campaspe Shire Council received through the Victorian Auditor General’s Officer report on Sexual Harassment in Local Government conducted in June 2020’’.

Of those that did provide a response to the survey there was a significant amount that did not offer a positive of negative indicator to their response.

Council employees had a month to complete the online survey, which offered three different response options — favourable, unfavourable and neutral.

Survey co-ordinators noted that the amount of staff who answered neutral to several questions was well “above average’’.

As a result the shire’s favourable responses were well below the Victorian Local Government benchmark, set for the 72 councils that participated in the survey.

The survey collected information on employee’s experience regarding equal employment opportunity, career development, diversity and inclusion, flexible working arrangements, and cultural safety within the organisation.

Among the sub-categories to the behavioural aspect of the survey was bullying, 11 per cent of the respondents indicating they were currently experiencing bullying in the Campaspe Shire workplace.

Talking down to others or making demeaning remarks accounted for almost three quarters of the behaviours recorded by staff, while exclusion and isolation, intimidation and threats and withholding essential information were among the top-four bullying tactics mentioned in responses.

Other types of behaviour identified in the survey, albeit at a much lower level, were verbal abuse, impossible assignments and interference with personal property or work equipment.

In February council engaged a consultant to review and analyse the data and conduct staff and management focus group sessions.

Fourteen face-to-face focus groups, a one-to-one session for half a day and a virtual session for employees who could not attend the other sessions were conducted by the consultant.

Attendance at the sessions were less than the survey response, with a total of 115 employees (23 per cent of the workforce) attending.


–Campaspe Shire has a workforce of 500 (335 full time equivalent staff - 291 females/206 males).

– 160 staff completed the survey (31 per cent participation rate)

– 10 per cent of staff had experienced sexual harassment, including unwelcome and inappropriate contact, suggestive comments and staring

– 30 per cent of staff had experienced bullying, including verbal abuse, intimidation and interference with personal property

– 50 per cent of staff who experienced sexual harassment tried to laugh off the harassment, while the next most common response was to pretend it did not bother them.

– 12 key findings were found from staff focus groups for implementation, including zero-tolerance to bullying, improving communication and celebrating employee differences.