Marie Claire Australia
Ask doctor, speaker and author Yumiko Kadota to describe herself and you may be surprised to hear she’d choose the term “emotional female”, a label she wears with pride. A survivor of sexual harassment, sexism and assault in the workplace, Kadota understands the power of words and the way they are used. “I want to reclaim that word, because it’s a strength to be emotional and show empathy,” says Kadota. “The word is often used to gaslight women. When women leave the workplace, it’s never the institution taking responsibility for the systemic factors that drove the women away.”
In 2018, Kadota quit her job as a plastic surgery registrar after suffering workplace bullying, extreme burnout and sexual harassment. “There’s a code of silence [in the medical industry] where we don’t talk about bad things that happen at work. It was affecting so many women around me, and no-one was willing to say anything,” says Kadota, who used to be told by one surgeon to take her clothes off in Japanese so no-one else would understand. “I felt I could be the mouthpiece for those still unable to speak out.”
The importance of placing responsibility on the employer, as highlighted in the Respect@Work report, is something Kadota has experienced first-hand, after she says she was sexually assaulted by a professor. “At the time, the uni said it was up to me to make a complaint. That shouldn’t be left to the [victim], ” says Kadota. “It [should be] the institution’s responsibility to make a formal report mandatory and support that process.” the powers (and resources) to enforce that duty.
According to Jenkins, the 1990s and 2000s saw progress on gender equality and women’s safety at work stall. “Women were essentially told, you’ve got the laws (in reference to the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act), now stop whining … it’s up to you to go and succeed,” she recalls.
But the #MeToo movement and the Respect@Work inquiry it inspired were breakthrough moments in Australia, paving the way for the kind of fundamental change in how we tackle women’s workplace safety, shifting the burden of action from individual women to those with the power to shape systems and structures, the very systems that have conspired to protect powerful perpetrators for far too long.
“That’s been significant,” says Jenkins. Dr Sonia Palmieri, an Australian National University gender and politics expert, agrees there has been a seismic shift in the conversation. “We’ve created the space for people to share their stories,” she explains. “After so long sweeping it under the carpet, that’s a fundamental shift.”
But, sadly, the Respect@
Work recommendations were so “revolutionary” that they landed in then-attorney-general Christian Porter’s drawer and remained there for more than a year, until a series of events – ironically involving historic rape allegations against Porter himself – invigorated calls for change last year.
In January 2021, Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year, her impassioned acceptance speech capturing the nation and igniting a powerful domino effect, forcing Scott Morrison’s government to respond to Jenkins’ Respect@Work recommendations from 2020.
Then in February, Brittany
Higgins went public with allegations she was raped by another staffer inside Parliament House, triggering Jenkins’ inquiry into parliament’s workplace Continued on page 67.