The various forms of harassment women have endured include suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours.
The ‘Still just a bit of banter’ report, a collaboration between the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Everyday Sexism Project and YouGov, revealed that 52 per cent of women have been sexually harassed at work. This figure increased to 63 per cent among the 18 to 24-year-olds questioned, with nearly two-thirds of them said they had experienced sexual harassment at work.
WEP leader Sophie Walker said: “[This] shows clearly and startlingly the extent to which young women must still run a gauntlet of sexist attitudes when they start work. The situation is disgraceful. More than forty years after the Sex Discrimination Act was passed to tackle sexism in the workplace, not nearly enough has changed.”
The study by YouGov surveyed 1,500 women who are in work or have ever had a job. It also found that 32 per cent of women have been subject to unwanted sex-related jokes in the workplace and 28 per cent experienced comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes.
Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they had been inappropriately touched – like a hand on the knee or lower back, while 20 per cent said they had faced unwanted verbal sexual advances at work. A further 12 per cent said they have been unwanted attempts to kiss them.
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said: “Many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past. In reality, it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.
“These findings reveal the shameful extent of the problem and the reality of the touching, unwanted advances, and inappropriate comments women find themselves confronted with while simply trying to do their jobs. This is shameful behaviour that has no place in 2016 and employers need to take urgent action to tackle the problem.”
The report also indicated that in the vast majority of cases (88 per cent), the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was a man. And in 17 per cent of cases, they were either a line manager, or someone with direct authority over the victim.
Despite the rates of incidence, 79 per cent women who reported experiencing sexual harassment at work did not declare the issue to their employer. Of this group, some 28 per cent thought reporting it would have a negative impact their work relationships or career prospects (15 per cent). Another 24 per cent felt they would not be taken seriously, while 20 per cent were too embarrassed to talk about it.
“How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’?”, said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health. Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.
“Employers must be clear they have a zero tolerance attitude to sexual harassment and treat any complaint seriously. It’s a scandal that so few women feel their bosses are dealing with the issue properly. “Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”
The TUC and Everyday Sexism Project have called on the government to abolish employment tribunal fees, which is currently £1,200, to give more people access to justice, in addition to implementing other measures. The Everyday Sexism Project also plans to launch www.shoutingback.org.uk, a platform that will provide information about legal rights, reporting options and available support for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and abuse.
You should also read: