Sexual harassment at work insights were recently discovered through a survey by People Management (PM) conducted with 314 of their readers. Through this survey, the majority of participants (68.8%) felt confident that if they brought forward sexual harassment claims to their organisations, these claims would be seriously and effectively investigated.
Although this can be perceived as a positive insight, implying a progression towards more safeguarding against sexual harassment at work, 36% of the readers say that there has been no difference in the number of cases in the last 5 years and 16.9% say there are more. Combined, there are more readers who feel that way than those who think there are fewer cases (32.5%).
Through this, we can see that there is still a need to conduct structural changes to tackle the causes of sexual harassment at work. As a long-standing problem, the challenge is to address the issue from the root of the cause and conduct a holistic approach.
Definition of Sexual Harassment in the UK
As defined by the British Medical Association (BMA), sexual harassment is an act that involves unwanted sexual behaviour that either violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive work environment for the individual affected. It is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.
It’s crucial to understand that intent isn’t always a deciding factor in defining sexual harassment. In some cases, conduct can be considered sexual harassment even if the person responsible didn’t intend it to be so. Furthermore, sexual harassment can occur when the behaviour isn’t directly aimed at a particular individual.
For instance, actions like displaying pornography at work or making sexual comments about women can create a demeaning, intimidating, or hostile work environment for colleagues who witness or overhear such behaviour.
Further examples of sexual harassment at work:
- Making sexual remarks or gestures that may include flirting about another person’s body, clothing or appearance
- Probing on another’s sex life
- Sexually offensive jokes and comments, including those about sexual orientation and gender reassignment
- Sharing or displaying sexual content
- Touching someone without their consent (e.g. hugs)
- Rape or sexual assault
Sexual Harassment at Work – UK Statistics
In 2021, the UK Government Equalities Office published a report on sexual harassment which included sexual harassment in workplaces. They discovered that 29% of employed individuals had experienced sexual harassment at work in the previous 12-month period. This equates to 20% of the population.
Although only slightly, women were more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace (30%) compared to men (27%) in the same period. It is to be noted that the type of harassment experienced between the gender groups varies.
Further, they discovered that in the workplace, sexual harassment was more common among people aged 16-24 and 25-34, those from ethnic minority backgrounds (excluding White minorities), individuals identifying as LGB (Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual), and those with severe disabilities that greatly limit their activities.
In cases of workplace harassment, the most common response from victims was to directly address the perpetrator verbally, with 35% of victims choosing this approach. In contrast, only 15% opted to formally report the harassment either internally or externally.
Notably, among those who took some form of action, 41% indicated that there were no consequences for the perpetrator. This figure dropped to 19% for those who formally reported the harassment.
Additionally, 40% of victims who took action experienced changes in their job situation, which increased to 50% for those who reported the harassment. Ultimately, the most prevalent outcome for victims was the decision to start looking for a new job, a choice made by 17% of them.
Reporting Harassment at Work
To address this issue, workplaces must put in place a holistic approach that will enable victims to come forward to report it as well as take measures to ensure consequences are given to perpetrators. Further, workplaces should establish a comprehensive system to safeguard employees, as well as educate them to prevent future instances.
Below are proactive measures that companies can take:
- Develop clear policies against sexual harassment, bullying, and verbal abuse, and ensure they are easily accessible and well-communicated.
- Provide regular, interactive, and inclusive training on sexual harassment for all employees.
- Establish confidential reporting systems with various reporting channels and respond promptly to reports
- Recognise the potential trauma caused by harassment and adopt a trauma-informed approach.
- Offer personalised support to victims, connecting them with necessary resources.
- Continuously review policies and practices to enhance workplace safety and address abuse.