It was just another day on the job for Larissa Waters that happened to end in internationally breaking news: The senator was the first member of Australian parliament to breastfeed (an act that occurs 8 to 12 times a day by the millions of new mothers around the world) while in session--and it became viral.
Waters took to Twitter to react to the media's response, saying, “we need family-friendly and flexible workplaces for all so this isn't news anymore." Waters, who takes is also co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, is working to equalize rights across the board for all new parents, both in Australia and beyond.
Larissa Waters. Photo courtesy of ABC
As effective as Waters' breastfeeding image was at generating social buzz, it is also a reminder of the type of trending news that falls by the wayside just as quickly as it peaks--making it more difficult for these practices to stay relevant, in order to be implemented.
As is showcased in the cases of past headliners, Spain's Carolina Bescansa and Italy's Licia Ronzulli, who brought their newborn's to parliament, and Iceland's Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir who made history last year, when she breastfed her baby during a debate. Each had her five minutes of fame, while the larger conversation was avoided.
It may have been Waters who resurfaced the discussion this week, but the conversation will once again revert to behind-closed-doors until the next issue surrounding the topic of mothers at work, and the overall treatment of parents in the workforce.
So, in order to keep the discussions relevant. SWAAY was curious about who Larissa Waters was outside the headlines. We wanted to what she stands for
Waters is the first Greens senator for Queensland. She stands behind The Greens' strong beliefs of representing women throughout Australia. Since her 2011 election to senate, and 2016 reelection, Waters has dedicated her time to achieving equality for all, through “creating a fairer society and achieving gender equality."
Along with The Greens' group beliefs, Waters' personal beliefs have been a lead factor in stimulating action for women in the workforce, particularly around equal pay and family-friendly workplaces. She played a large role in the Australian Parliament's 'family friendly' rule changes last year, most notably the passing of law that permits female politicians to nurse in the chamber--influencing the law and being the first to act on it, seemingly brought her work full circle. In leading up to the rule change, Waters said, “If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
Waters also firmly stands behind The Greens' message of inclusivity. “There is no place for gender discrimination in our society," she has said. "We will continue to fight it in all its forms and stand up for gender equality against outdated conservative attitudes." Waters reinforced her support on this stance when she posted on Instagram to recognize her daughter's birth, which incidentally coincided with International Women's Day.
A snippet from her post reads,
“I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber). Happy International Women's Day to everyone working for a more equal future! #IWD2017"
To further her support of women's rights, Waters has also been a prominent force in addressing Australia's domestic violence crisis, where according to The Greens' site, “more than one woman per week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner." With underfunded front line services, Waters took action to establish a Senate inquiry on domestic violence, which overturned existing funding cuts to these critical shelters and protective services.
Aside from her campaigns surrounding women and parents, Waters and her co-deputy, Scott Ludlam, are also taking action for Australia's tourism, mining and resources, environment and biodiversity, as well as gambling reform.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.