Nearly two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment at work, TUC survey reveals

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More than half (52%) of women, and nearly two-thirds (63%) of women aged 18-24 years old, said they have experienced sexual harassment at work, according to a new research from the TUC in collaboration with the Everyday Sexism Project published today (Wednesday).

The study is the largest of its kind for a generation and cited by leading academic Dr Jane Pillinger as one of the most extensive pieces of research on sexual harassment at work in Europe.

It was carried out by YouGov and is based on the opinion of women who are working or who have ever had a job, and were happy to be surveyed about this topic from an overall sample of British adults.

It reveals that of those surveyed:

  • nearly one in three (32%) of women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature while at work
  • more than one in four (28%) of women have been the subject of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work
  • nearly a quarter (23%) of women have experienced unwanted touching – like a hand on the knee or lower back at work
  • a fifth (20%) of women have experienced unwanted verbal sexual advances at work
  • around one in eight (12%) women have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work.

Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from suggestive remarks, jokes about a colleague’s sex life, circulating pornography, to inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing, or demands for sexual favours.

In the vast majority of cases (88%), the perpetrator of the sexual harassment was male, and nearly one in five (17%) women reported that it was their line manager, or someone with direct authority over them.

The survey, published today in a joint report with the Everyday Sexism Project called Still just a bit of banter?, also finds that around four out of five (79%) women who said they experienced sexual harassment at work did not tell their employer about what was happening.

Of this group, some thought reporting it would impact negatively on their relationships at work (28%) or on their career prospects (15%), while others were too embarrassed to talk about it (20%) or felt they would not be believed or taken seriously (24%).

The study is also the first to include the opinion of women who identify as black, minority and ethnic origin (BME) who say they have been harassed at work. More than half (52%) said they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’?

“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.”

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.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Still just a bit of banter? is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/SexualHarassmentreport2016.pdf

- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. From an overall sample of 3,524 GB adults, 1,533 GB Adult Women were happy to be asked about workplace harassment. Of this, 801 GB women who are or have ever been in paid work said they have ever experienced some form of workplace harassment. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4-6 January 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures are not weighted or representative of all those who have experienced workplace harassment but obtained from those who consented to be asked questions of this topic.

- The TUC has also published a Know Your Rights leaflet about sexual harassment which is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Protection_From_Sexual_Harassment_2016_Know_Your_Rights_Booklet_LR.pdf

and a guide for union reps is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/sexualharassmentguideforreps.pdf

- Dr Jane Pillinger is a Dublin-based independent researcher and social policy advisor. She provides policy advice for European and international organisations and social partner bodies across Europe and internationally on social policy, gender equality, labour market issues and migration. She said: “The TUC’s survey on sexual harassment is one of the biggest surveys carried in Europe on women’s experiences of sexual harassment at work. The survey results shows the enormity of this issue which is so often invisible and under-reported – it points to the need for changes in attitudes towards women and for comprehensive workplace policies to prevent and respond to sexual harassment.” 

- In response to these findings, the Everyday Sexism Project is launching a new platform, www.shoutingback.org.uk which will bring together in one place for the first time information about legal rights, reporting options and available support for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and abuse.

- The TUC and the Everyday Sexism Project are calling on the government to take action against sexual harassment and adopt a series of measures including:

  • abolishing employment tribunal fees to give more people access to justice – it currently costs £1,200 to take a case to court.
  • reinstating provisions in the Equality Act which placed a duty on employers to protect workers from third party harassment – perpetrators of sexual harassment are often customers, clients or patients, who women working in sectors like retail, hospitality, healthcare, care and transport deal with on a daily basis. They currently have little protection from their employer when facing harassment, so reintroducing a duty on employers to act where an employee is being harassed by a third party would be an important step in tackling workplace sexual harassment.
  • giving employment tribunals the power to make wider recommendations – employment tribunals used to have the power to make recommendations for the benefit of the wider workforce, not just the individual claimant, in relation to discrimination claims. In workplaces where a culture of harassment has been allowed to flourish or where organisations have failed to respond adequately to complaints of harassment, the power to make wider recommendations would be of great benefit.
  • giving union equality reps full recognition and facility time.
  • extending the full range of statutory employment rights to all workers, regardless of employment status or type of contract, to ensure that women on zero-hours contracts or agency workers are protected in the workplace.

The TUC has also wants employers to take the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace seriously and to ensure robust policies and training are in place to protect staff.

Case studies

Some of the testimonies on the Everyday Sexism Project website show how undermining sexual harassment – which can often take place in front of other colleagues – can be:

  • “On my last day at work, a colleague told me that his biggest regret was that he didn't get the chance to rape me in the store room before I left. For months I had been scared to go into that room on my own because he always said things like, “I'm coming to get you” and “Don't go in there alone, I'll jump on you.”
  • “At the job I recently left, a male manager said to me (in front of a female manager) that I would do well in the organisation because I have big boobs.”
  • “I used to work in a law firm. Whenever I won a case in court, I would be lambasted by a particular male colleague who would leer at me and make comments like “How much did you pay the judge to win the case?”, “You only won because you're wearing a skirt” and “Did you sleep with the judge then?””
  • “On a night out, stood in a crowd of male colleagues who were considerably older than me (I was 19) when one of them interrupted me by leaning through the circle and touching my boob while the rest laughed. Not one of them said anything or even seemed to think it was wrong.”

- For more information about the Everyday Sexism Project please visit www.everydaysexism.com

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk
- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews
 

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