As more and more details emerge from every industry, and across the globe – workplace sexual harassment has been brought to the fore again – and with powerful voices for change this time around.
The statistics are enraging:
According to the FRA, The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, more than one in two of EU women surveyed have experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15.
Last year, a poll conducted by TUC revealed that 2 in 3 women experienced sexual harassment at work in the UK. That accounts for 50% of women in the workplace. Sadly I wonder if that figure is actually higher, due to fear of reprisals resulting in under reporting.
While the recent high profile cases have shone a bright light on how pervasive the problem really is, more and more it seems we have only scratched the surface.
Sexual harassment in the workplace spans industries: from food service and retail to education, tech companies, government and as we have all seen in recent months to the entertainment industry.
It doesn’t have socio-economic barriers or gender barriers. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, what your sexual orientation is, whether you are young or old, or what your education level is, sexual harassment can be found everywhere. While the great majority of workplace sexual harassment happens to women, men and boys can and do suffer as well. And if we think the arts community is immune, we can think again.
In the UK and Ireland, and other countries as well, there are laws against sexual harassment (The UK’s 2010 Equality Act protects against sexual harassment), but many feel that laws are unclear and that the fear of reprisals and retaliation keep many people from reporting incidents.
Even as some surveys show that 70% of companies and organisations provide some form of sexual harassment training in the workplace, and 98% have sexual harassment policies – still it persists.
So what is going on exactly?
First, to be clear, sexual harassment in the workplace is usually about power and control. When companies are informed of harassment, and do nothing, this sends a clear message that harassment is tolerated, giving the harasser and others the green light to continue their behaviour. For victims, it feels like the company will do nothing so what can they do anyway?
One Harvard Review study stated, “some people stated that sexual harassment was just something they had to put up with.” What’s more witnesses to harassment seldom reported what they saw as well, saying, “I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
Significantly, many people and witnesses don’t report sexual harassment because often, companies try to minimise what is happening or want to sweep the issue under the rug. In some cases organisations have been down right hostile towards those reporting harassment rather than investigating the matter. Many people reported fearing retaliation and feeling intimated as reasons for keeping quiet. Job loss, fear of poor future prospects, fear of gossip, and creating a bad working environment for speaking up lead many to stay silent.
In addition, many people in the survey spoke about trying to downplay or diffuse a sexual advance. In doing so, it would neutralise the situation in the short term, but unless reported – and acted on – gives harassers the idea that such behaviour is fine.
So what can we do in our own organisations?
- Assign someone to be in charge of your policy and be the point person in your organisation for reporting incidents.
- Be sure to communicate clearly your organisations policy on sexual harassment. Have a written policy in place for people to access.
– Clearly define what constitutes harassment.
– Include examples.
– Explain the process of reporting.
– Outline how HR or administration will handle the process.
– Explain what disciplinary measures will be followed.
– Clearly state that all complaints are treated as confidential.
- Have a clear reporting system in place, so that everyone knows how to report an incident and knows exactly what will happen during each step of the process. This level of clarity can help reduce retaliation and gossip and can help victims understand exactly how incidents will be investigated.
- Teach people about the bystander effect and what to do if they witness someone being sexually harassed.
– Make observers aware of the problem so they can identify it when they see it.
– Teach people that help should always be given.
– Remind people that we are all responsible for stamping out sexual harassment.
– Have a clear process in place for witnesses to use for intervening and reporting.
– Encourage everyone in your organisation to report or intervene if they see sexual harassment.
- Check your organisations culture.
– Anonymous surveys can help you to understand exactly what is going in your organisation in a way that feels safe for everyone.
– Zero tolerance policies and a management that is committed to stamping out sexual harassment creates the right atmosphere and culture.
– Explicit training and a supportive environment are keys to creating a safe environment.
– Traditionally male dominated industries are typically worse for sexual harassment culture, as are higher echelons of management, again traditionally male dominated.
– Remember that while the vast majority of sexual harassment is directed at women, men can also be victims – take all reports seriously and act accordingly.
If there is a silver lining in any of this, it is that there seems to be that these issues are finally coming to the forefront. It feels like we can finally make some progress and say enough is enough. One great example of an arts organisation being proactive on the issue is The Royal Court in London. You can read more about the day of action held there No Grey Area as well.
As Helen, here at Ticketsolve, so rightly said,
“I feel that this is important because the arts have a responsibility to provide a mirror to society and a platform to provoke thought and discussion on any topic, no matter how uncomfortable and controversial.”
There are no excuses, there is no more rationalising. It is not “just harmless banter; it’s just flirting,” that idea is downright ludicrous and offensive.
Together, we must work to expunge this from our workplaces.
Enough is enough.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, below are places you can seek help, support and information.
Equality and Human Rights Commission – Sexual Harassment
Helpline England: 0845 604 6610
Helpline Scotland: 0845 604 5510
Helpline Wales: 0845 604 8810
Direct Gov – Harassment in the Workplace
Citizen’s Advice Bureau – Sexual Discrimination and Harassment at Work
ACAS – Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
Helpline: 0845 747 4747
Supportline: 08 08 16 89 111
RASAC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre)
National Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30 & 7-9.30)
Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support
National Helpline: 0845 122 1201
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – Rights and Laws
Citizens Information – Harassment at Work
Crime Victims Helpline
National Helpline Freephone 116006
Rape Crisis Centre
National Rape Crisis Centre, Dublin
National Helpline 1800 77 88 88
Reach Out – Information on sexual harassment in the workplace