This week the media has had a field day over issues relating to gender equality. Firstly there was the now infamous sports interview of cricketer Chris Gayle who made suggestive remarks to a female journalist. Then it was reported that federal minister Jamie Briggs was forced to step down from his role as Minister for Cities after it was revealed he had acted inappropriately with a female colleague during a business trip to Hong Kong.

Both incidents have sparked mass debate, particularly on the issues of sexual harassment within the workplace and the complexities and ‘grey’ areas surrounding gender equality.

As soon as the footage of Chris Gayle was released, the public were quick to show their disapproval. Many deemed Gayle’s comments to be inappropriate and that they not only made the Channel Ten News reporter uncomfortable but made it difficult for her to do her job.

Both Channel Ten and Cricket Australia also made a point of publicly denouncing Gayle’s behaviour and he has since been fined $10,000 and made a public apology.

Adding to the fire was the announcement this week that Federal MP Jamie Briggs would be stepping down from his role as Minister for Cities after it was made public he acted inappropriately with a female public servant in a bar in Hong Kong, while on a business trip.

In both instances Australia has drawn a firm line in the sand about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, demonstrating the repercussions faced when acting inappropriately with colleagues within a working environment.

However some have argued that while incidents like the Gayle or Briggs debacle can happen, the real risk we run as a society is letting these incidents deter us from offering both sexes particular opportunities in the workforce.

“It would be backward step, if we allow recent events to affect the interpersonal relationships between men and women at work and outside of work,”  Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Right Commissioner Kate Jenkins said in a public statement made this week.

Chief Executive Women president Diane Smith-Gander agreed with this sentiment, saying that one of the sad repercussions of the Briggs incident  particularly, is that it highlights the issues around inviting junior staffers to alcohol-fuelled social events.

“It’s not hard to see that the incident could make male executives now think twice about inviting junior female staff to informal social occasions-or even some female staff choosing not to attend for fear of perceived harassment.

This puts both at a disadvantage as it is in many informal social situations where junior staffers can get to meet senior executives and senior executives get to view which junior staffers show promise in their careers,” Smith- Gardner said.

Indeed both instances highlight the complexities involved in gender equality and when someone has gone too far. Under what parameters does a work drink transform into a come-on, a compliment made to a colleague become too suggestive?

Diane Smith-Gardner acknowledges that while it is a sensitive area, it is one that needs more open discussion, ‘rules of engagement’ and research.

Especially as social networking has become such an integral part of business activity. A recent study from the UK Business Network, revealed that 65% of those surveyed, gained their most effective business connections through networking and socialising with other professionals. Furthermore 80% of those surveyed frequently participated in some form of networking for work, whether that be online or through business trips, seminars and conferences.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Kate Carnell agreed she has seen for herself the benefits networking and informal socialising has had to her own and fellow colleague’s career progression. She also emphasised that it would be ‘horrible’ to see the pendulum swing so far following the recent incidents played out in the media, that men and women could not go out for a drink or travel on a work trip in a professional sense, in fear of a similar incident.

Ultimately, what can be learnt from the last week is that while respect for both men and women is paramount in creating a productive and harmonious workplace, as a society we are still trying to identify the boundaries. Set guidelines still need to be established to ensure this level of respect is maintained across all settings; the office, a work trip or even on the cricket pitch.