At a young age, Lisa Sadaraka began her career in the tourism industry in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. In 2006, she moved to Auckland in seek of better opportunities for herself and her young son.
After nine years at AUT, Lisa is now Programme Leader for the Bachelor of International Hospitality Management and teaches service management on the hospitality degree.
“I love my job. I often say to people they’re going to have to wheel me out of here in a wooden box, because I’m not planning on going anywhere,” says Lisa.
In 2014, Lisa began her Master of International Hospitality Management and is currently writing her thesis.
Inspired by her own experiences working in the hospitality industry in Rarotonga, Lisa is exploring the incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The aim of Lisa’s study is to investigate the sexual harassment of hospitality employees by customers and to understand what social and environmental factors influence this behaviour.
Tourism is the main industry in the Cook Islands contributing 60% of the country’s annual GDP. Cook Islanders are renowned for being great hosts and accordingly, have personalities well suited to the hospitality industry, says Lisa.
Worldwide, the hospitality industry has a reputation for its high incidence of sexual harassment, with studies indicating that hospitality employees experience harassment significantly more than workers in other private sector industries.
To date, however, no studies have investigated sexual harassment in the Cook Islands hospitality industry. This gap in the research provides the rationale for Lisa’s study.
Lisa's study provides an opportunity for employees and employers to identify inappropriate sexual behaviour by customers and to explore the impact in workplace settings.
Her research involves interviews with employees and employers in restaurants, bars and hotels to gain insight into their understanding and perceptions of sexual harassment.
“I’m also looking at tolerance – why employees tolerate such behaviour – and causality – what they believe causes inappropriate customer behaviour.”
Lisa says the outcome of her research will benefit Cook Islanders working in the hospitality industry. Sexual harassment can have a significant negative impact in the workplace, but unfortunately, it is often ignored.
“Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue. In Pacific communities, ‘sex’ is a taboo subject so the issue of sexual harassment tends to get brushed under the carpet. Although it’s a controversial topic, it’s one that needs to be brought to light in our Pacific communities”.
Surprisingly, Lisa received positive responses when recruiting participants for her study.
“I didn’t anticipate there would be such a high level of interest to participate. This indicates people wanted the opportunity to have a voice about this issue. I was very humbled that they felt comfortable enough to open up and share their experiences with me.”
Lisa wants to shed some light on a sensitive subject that is personal.
“As a young Cook Islands woman, growing up and working in the industry, I sometimes found myself in compromising situations with customers. I didn’t know what to do, because I lacked the knowledge and skills to respond confidently.”
Lisa hopes that her research will make a positive contribution towards educating hospitality employers and employees about identifying and responding to inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace.