Sexual Harassment – The Basics
Sexual harassment is not just a WHS issue or just about ‘values’ but exposes the weakness of an industry bereft of an Ethic of Risk (https://safetyrisk.net/methodology-and-an-ethic-of-risk/; https://safetyrisk.net/silence-power-and-an-ethic-of-risk/ ).
We read recently about sexual harassment of women in FIFO work . This article exposes some of the basic problems with how the safety industry views the issue.
At the foundation of the issue of sexual harassment is the problem of power, personhood and socially constructed identity. Without an understanding of the nature of power, personhood, the common good, collectivism, individualism, social contract, social politics and an ethic of care, it is not likely that Safety will mature in its approach to this issue.
There is no discussion of any of these issues in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics. Indeed, a deontological ethic simply encourages a masculinist understanding of power. I bet all the men who walked around to the dongers of women in that mining camp ‘checked their gut’ before they knocked on the door in the middle of the night!
In this article ‘Female FIFO workers told to avoid ‘provocative’ clothing after harassment dismissal’ we see the projection of ‘the problem’ onto women as the provocateurs’ of risk. In the myth of fallibility this is known as the ‘guilt of Eve myth’. The problem isn’t inside me, it’s outside, ‘Eve made me do it!’ The ABC article describes how the issue in the QCG mining camp was projected onto women and how the consequences for men were amplified but it was never about the identity, dignity or personhood of women. But don’t worry about us, we believe in infallibility, just believe in zero.
Without understanding an ethic of power and personhood in risk, Safety is not likely to grow up and develop a professional approach to Ethics, including a moral responsibility for sex, gender, equity and other differences.
So, you can turn to the deontological ‘sense of duty’ (https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/workplace-sexual-harassment ); https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/work-related-gendered-violence-including-sexual-harassment ) without ever having to address the basics of what is an ethical and moral problem. Indeed, with a confused understanding of no difference between morality and ethics in the AIHS BoK, the industry is ripe for never getting to the heart of the problem.
At the heart of the sexual harassment issue is the necessity of understanding the nature of power, personhood and social identity (Socialitie). Without an understanding of a violation of personhood, no number of laws and rules (https://hallandwilcox.com.au/thinking/new-whs-guidance-material-on-preventing-workplace-sexual-harassment-and-workplace-violence-and-aggression-released/; https://www.minterellison.com/articles/start-managing-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace-differently ) are going to change much. Indeed, under the ideology of zero the darling of Safety, things mostly go underground. This is evidenced in the article.
Under a deontological ethic sexual harassment becomes ‘an obligation’, a policy issue and ‘a hazard’ (Sexual harassment: now squarely a Work Health and Safety issue)
). Under such an ethic one can play games and mask critical underlying issues, just as the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics does. This is the way masculinist power works and why there is no voice for a Feminist Ethic (https://vimeo.com/237511120 ) in the safety industry. A Feminist Ethic (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/ ) and Care Ethics ( Care ethics and “caring” organizations ) bring to the table the social construction of identity and belonging. None of this is discussed in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics.
The company concerned in this ABC article was McConnell Dowell and in 2016 taken over by Shell. Shell of course declared that it has a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the issue, which means of course that the issue goes underground. Shell then declares its ‘core values’ but at no time is there any recognition of the basics of socially constructed identity, the morality of common good, power or the violation of personhood. How very convenient to hide behind a deontological ethic, print a few rules, run a values workshop and write a harassment policy. Most of this stuff simply becomes more safety cosmetics, tokenism and paperwork (https://safetyrisk.net/sexual-harassment-and-safety-cosmetics/ ). No wonder nothing changes in safety if you don’t address the basics.