Gender-Based Violence in the Hospitality Industry: A Concerning Reality

Gender-based violence, particularly sexual harassment, is a prevalent issue in the workforce. Recent research has shed light on the extent of this problem within the hospitality industry.

A study conducted in Melbourne and Newcastle interviewed 124 hospitality workers from various bars, restaurants, and cafes. The findings revealed that young women, queer individuals, and gender diverse workers are at the forefront of responding to and managing gender-based violence in their venues. Interestingly, women bar workers were often considered more suitable for handling the threat of violence.

Service labor exhibits clear gendered dynamics, with enduring sexual harassment being viewed as a routine aspect of the job, especially for women in bar work. Workers emphasized the importance of distinguishing between friendliness and harassment from patrons. They called for clear guidelines from management regarding what behavior is deemed acceptable or unacceptable, rather than placing the burden on individuals to speak out.

Unfortunately, many workers lacked support from their managers in terms of protecting staff. Consequently, workers had to assess and navigate the risks themselves. Learning how to manage harassing or abusive customers was considered a normal and indispensable part of the job. This affected women, gender diverse individuals, and queer workers disproportionately.

Women in bar work were frequently expected to defuse violent or aggressive patrons due to societal expectations that they are calmer and kinder. This placed them at significant risk of harm. Instances of being spat at, followed home, and threatened with physical and sexual violence were also reported by women, queer individuals, and gender diverse workers.

Given the widespread nature of gendered violence, the belief that women are better equipped to handle violence is both risky and exploitative.

To address these issues, the study suggests five recommendations for the industry:

1. Develop new policies for addressing sexual harassment in front-of-house service labor, including complaint registration and resolution processes, investigations, and outcomes.
2. Implement tailored approaches to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in line with the new positive duty under the Sex Discrimination Act.
3. Adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to sexual and gender-based harassment and establish agreed-upon behavioral expectations between workers and employers.
4. Improve gender equity across all staffing positions within hospitality venues.
5. Increase funding for local organizations to provide training, resources, and campaigns specifically designed for hospitality workers.

By implementing these changes, the industry can create safer and more respectful workplaces for all employees.