GEMMA Lloyd was a bright-eyed 22-year-old breaking into the tech industry’s notorious “boys’ club” when a much older male colleague complimented her breasts in front of a roomful of men.
Unfortunately, it was just the beginning of her experiences with sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
“During my first week … an older guy said ‘she’s got beautiful blue eyes’ and another guy in his 60s said ‘she’s got beautiful big boobs too’ — that was in front of a group of men,” Ms Lloyd said.
“To be honest I hadn’t had an extensive work history before and I just thought that was what work was like.”
Over the years, Ms Lloyd recalls being routinely asked to make coffee, take notes or collect stationery for male colleagues — despite being at the same level of seniority.
“I progressed very quickly so when I was quite young, in my early 20s, I was at the same level as middle-aged men, and as a consequence of that … I’d walk into meetings with clients and they’d assume I was my male colleague’s assistant,” she said.
At one stage, Ms Lloyd was regularly sent “very sexually explicit” messages from a male colleague. When HR investigated, the colleague claimed his phone had been hacked — and HR believed him.
The texts only stopped when Ms Lloyd’s ex-partner warned the colleague to back off.
Then there was the time a potential investor asked her to get a hotel room with him, and another incident where a client told Ms Lloyd her company “just hires pretty young blondes”.
These stories are alarming, but they’re far from unique.
While the media has recently been flooded with allegations of sexual misconduct associated with huge names in the entertainment industry, including Australia’s own Don Burke, Ms Lloyd said workplace sexual harassment was common across all industries and sectors.
Last year, Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs told the Sydney Morning Herald that the “overwhelming” majority of complaints made under the Sex Discrimination Act related to sexual harassment at work.
According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics analysed by the ABC, 38 per cent of young women aged 18-24 experienced sexual harassment in 2016.
Luckily, Ms Lloyd had “thick skin” and was confident enough to stand up to and report many of her harassers. But she said many women were suffering in silence.
“No one should go into work and not be respected and be in a position where they are degraded,” Ms Lloyd said.
“The disappointing thing is, HR still doesn’t do enough to support women.”
After years of frustration, harassment and disrespect, Ms Lloyd gave up her six-figure salary and comfortable lifestyle to found her own company, DCC Jobs, at the age of 27.
DCC Jobs connects female employees with female-friendly workplaces, and participating companies are thoroughly screened on initiatives such as flexible working, pay equity, women in leadership and more as part of Ms Lloyd’s mission to change “archaic workplace cultures”.
Her company rejects around 10 per cent of employers who fail to meet the criteria, with around 80 per cent going on to improve their practices.
The entrepreneur said leaving the boys’ club behind, founding her own company and tackling toxic workplaces was the “best decision” she’s ever made.