22 November 2017
Category: news
22 November 2017,
It’s not all about the celebrities

We’ve all heard the recent sexual harassment stories involving celebrities and well known figures.  But how wide is the problem? Significant if you are a woman.  Less likely, but still an issue, if you are a man.

A recent survey from the BBC, showed that 50% of British women and 20% of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.  Of the women who said they had been harassed, 63% said they did not report it to anyone, and 79% of the male victims kept it to themselves.  (The survey interviewed more than 2,000 people.)  You can read more here.

These are quite staggering statistics.  Of course, within these figures is a wide kaleidoscope of behaviours, from outright sexual assaults to inappropriate comments.  This has given rise to much debate about whether the more serious behaviours become trivialised by being discussed in the same “sexual harassment” umbrella as those which are less serious.  It is an interesting debate.

But no one can deny that this is a game changer.  Many more people will now be willing to speak out when they feel they have been subject to inappropriate behaviour at work.  That said, people will still be apprehensive – especially if it the behaviour comes from their boss.

As always with HR issues, policies and procedures play their part in giving a route for employees to be listened to and complaints taken seriously.   In that vein, many businesses may need to revisit their procedures to be sure they are fit for purpose.

But it is much more than just following a procedure.  We all know that procedures can be followed in principle, but the result can end up as something of a whitewash.  Ultimately, it is about the culture of an organisation and the tone and behaviours set by the senior managers: if they don’t change, nothing will.

And let’s not forget about many other forms of bullying behaviour at work, which are not sexual in nature but which at route are also about abuse of power. Let’s hope there is more awareness of unacceptable behaviour of all kinds, and it being challenged when it does arise.

Curiously, we have had long-standing laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work, but it seems they have had far less impact on our collective social conscience than allegations involving well-known Hollywood figures.  It is not a good advert for the power of the law to change behaviour.
(c) Ben Thornber, Thornber HR Law

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