New Fawcett Society report on tackling sexual harassment in the workplace

The Fawcett Society in collaboration with Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource & Development Agency and Close the Gap has produced a very comprehensive report aimed at giving employers advice about how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. They will be producing a toolkit for employers in the Spring.

The 113 page report covers how to change the culture of an organisation to show that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, set up reporting mechanisms, how to treat those making reports and how to respond to reports.

Key findings of the report include:

  • At least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment, and women who are marginalised for other reasons, such as race or disability, face an increased risk and different forms of sexual harassment
  • 45% of women in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls
  • Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home
  • Almost seven in ten (68%) disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work, compared to 52% of women in general
  • Ethnic minority workers (women and men) reported higher rates (32%) of sexual harassment than white workers (28%) over the last 12 months
  • A poll of LGBT workers found that 68% had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace

These figures are truly disturbing and show the extent of the problem.

One bisexual woman describes her experience:

“The myth around being bisexual is that you are “up for it” with anyone. I am a very
sexual and flirtatious person…So I was made to feel I deserved the unwanted attention,
the idea being if I was generally quite open about my sexuality, I couldn’t “arbitrarily”
refuse someone or complain when they did something inappropriate.”

Often women don’t report the harassment for various reasons such as:

The only response I would have got is a laugh, a shrug and an “it’s only A” and I would have been the one labelled ‘difficult’. That is based on observation of the outcome of other incidents.

So what can employers do to make things better:

Proactively communicate – and demonstrate through consistent actions when incidents occur – that any sexual harassment is unacceptable. Employers should address all incidents of sexual harassment, small and large, with seriousness and professionalism.

Employers should say that behaviours which may have been considered ‘normal’ will not be tolerated.

And how should they investigate reports?

Employers should select a person or group that that is trauma-informed and experienced in conducting sexual harassment investigations to carry out the process. This can be an independent third-party, or an internal person or group, as long as they are perceived by all employees as impartial. If a group is selected, they should represent a diversity of backgrounds and characteristics. Both the employee who made the report and the alleged harasser should be given a chance to be heard, along with any witnesses available. Employers should recognise that sexual harassment often takes place out of view of witnesses; if there are no witnesses investigators should make a decision after hearing evidence on the incident and any other relevant information
from both sides.

Disciplinary action, if the complaint is upheld, should be proportionate to the offence and range from an apology to dismissal.

This is a highly useful resource both for employers and for employees to check on what their employers should be doing and push for change.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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