Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, made the shocking revelation while on the panel of this week’s Q&A on ABC.
The special women in leadership episode featured female figures from politics, business and sport, and grappled with a number of issues, from representation to the #MeToo movement.
But it was a story from Ms Andrews that sent shockwaves through the studio, after she recounted a meeting with a man who made inappropriate gestures.
“A male in the meeting thought it was appropriate for him to make gestures as if he was going to remove his trousers,” Ms Andrews said.
“And at that point, I called it as inappropriate behaviour, and I left the meeting.”
The story was briefly mentioned in recent days as part of an interview with Ms Andrews, who had also remarked that the more senior women are in politics, the worse they are treated.
But after guest host Annabel Crabb pushed the politician for details, she elaborated on the man’s possible intentions.
“If I was to be generous, I would say that the individual concerned was not used to dealing with senior women in a workplace,” Ms Andrews said.
“And probably genuinely, I think that was the issue. But the behaviour needed to be called out. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t smart — it was inappropriate.
“And I think that women need to start calling out that behaviour as and when it happens.”
Good on Karen Andrews calling out bad behavior. That’s how the culture is changed at the top #QandA
— Ngaire Elwood (@ngaire_elwood) March 11, 2019
When all else fails… drop your dacks. There’s someone with merit. #qanda
— Lesley Apps (@lesamia) March 11, 2019
Great for Karen Andrews to remove herself from that situation, but what about women who aren’t in a position to simply walk away from workplace harassment? #QandA
— Kate ✿ (@katebrechin) March 11, 2019
And PLEASE good men, we all need you to call out bad behaviour. No more laughing it off. Crikey. #QandA
— Rebecca Parkinson (@BecParko) March 11, 2019
Rather than merely complain to her peers afterwards, or to push forward with the meeting, she said she decided to “act — and I did”.
Although she didn’t elaborate, Ms Andrews did reveal that she received a written apology the next day. When asked whether the man was still his role, she said: “I don’t know. They won’t be in my office again.”
Ms Andrews received strong support on social media for sharing the story, with many aghast at what women in leadership roles have to deal with.
But the audience and Crabb seemed shocked by her frank admission earlier that the Liberal Party’s target for 50 per cent of its caucus to be female by 2025 was too ambitious.
The chances of the party reaching equal representation was “slim”, Ms Andrews said, and the target should be revised down to 30 per cent.
“Look, quite frankly, I think a 50 per cent target in that space of time is very ambitious and we need to accept the likelihood of us achieving that is slim.
“So I’m in favour of setting a more realistic target to make sure that … (we) have a plan to be able to get there, because crossing our fingers and hoping all of a sudden we’re going to increase the number of women representatives, it is just not going to happen.
“I’ve talked about a 30 per cent target because I believe that we need to develop a critical mass. It’s generally accepted that a critical mass, to make sustainable change, is about 30 per cent. Once you get to that, it can be quite self-sustaining.”
Related story: Scott Morrison reacts to criticism after his women comments went global
Later in the program, after a question from the audience about encouraging men to continue supporting women in the #MeToo era, Ms Andrews seemed to shock Crabb again.
“Look, I would discourage a male in the current environment from taking on one-on-one mentoring, I would have to say,” she said.
The general concern “from a lot of men” is that an accusation about their conduct and behaviour could arise out of being in certain scenarios with women.
“I think that is actually something that men should be very conscious of,” she said.
“I think that it makes a lot of common sense, particularly in the current environment, that where you are working with people and you are trying to help them and you are trying to assist them, make sure that everyone’s safe.”
When Crabb asked that as the Minister for Industry she was advising men not to mentor women, Ms Andrews seemed to backtrack.
But she would discourage one-on-one mentoring “in a lot of circumstances” and instead suggest men spend time with women in “somewhere where there were other people around, not in an environment where that was just two people”.
The remarks did not go well with many viewers, some of whom took to Twitter to slam the insinuation
I have been mentored many times by men and do you know why I never accused them of assault? They never assaulted me! Stop this garbage of men are now in danger. Creepy men are now in danger, that’s all! #QandA
— Kate Murray (@kateemma22) March 11, 2019
Hey men! If you cannot be trusted 1:1 when mentoring a woman, you cannot be trusted to mentor; full stop. #QandA
— Melissa Brown (@auntymel) March 11, 2019
Oh please! Decent men have nothing to worry about as a genuine mentor #QandA
— ’tisonyme (@Brayster_) March 11, 2019
Men can mentor women. Just don’t harrass or assault them #QandA
— Rebecca Vassarotti (@RebeccaVassarot) March 11, 2019
Former Olympian and current boss of the AFLW, Nicole Livingstone, said that men mentoring women was valuable.
But she ruffled feathers on Twitter when she suggested that the women in leadership panel could have benefited from the views of a man.
“Sorry, we probably need a man at this table,” Ms Livingstone said.
“To be able to talk from their perspective what it means to be welcoming, to be accepting, and to actually help women on their journey. So we need men on this journey.”
Nope, sorry, we don’t need men on the panel tonight. Just ONCE it’s delightful without one #qanda
— Dr Barbara Joseph (@UrBarbed) March 11, 2019
No, we don’t need a man on the panel tonight. Men have had plenty of chances to speak #QandA
— Jacqui Davies (@jacqui_davies) March 11, 2019
Sabina Shugg, director of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mining Innovation Hub, said that mentoring was vital in her industry.
“We need men mentoring women because how else are (men) going to learn about what some of the people in industry, in politics, in sport are experiencing and how can they then take that learning into their own work environment and make change?”