#MeToo – Where are you?
This week has seen further controversy and commentary on sexual harassment and bullying, both in and out of the workplace. Regardless of what you think… Read more
This week has seen further controversy and commentary on sexual harassment and bullying, both in and out of the workplace. Regardless of what you think of Gillette’s contribution to the #MeToo debate, it is getting people talking and that has to be a good thing.
The statistics continue to shock. It was confirmed this week that of the c. 30,000 UN staff and contractors (only 17% of the total workforce) who elected to take part in their November survey, one in three UN workers has been sexually harassed in the past two years. Of those who had been sexually harassed, more than half experienced it in an office environment, and another 17% said that it took place at a work-related social event. The results confirmed that only one in three UN workers who had experienced sexual harassment took action. Oxfam, too, have been in the press again, with the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change finding that the charity has “a toxic work environment” and its procedures for dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct were “deficient”.
Tuesday evening’s airing of BBC Three’s programme, “Is this sexual harassment?” gave us further food for thought. It showed a group of young people who were presented with a fictitious scenario (a female manager starting a new job in a bar) discussing the actions of her senior colleague. At various points, the group were asked whether they considered the senior manager’s behaviour to be sexual harassment – be it a compliment about her perfume, leaning in too close, touching her back, commenting: “I’m the brains, you’re the beauty”, a kiss after work. The episode concluded with the female manager successfully bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal for sexual harassment.
It is not until the end of the programme, after the group have voted on whether it is sexual harassment (60% said yes; 30% said no; 10% were not sure), that the group are informed of the legal definition of harassment (unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating one’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment). The definition prompts a number of the group to hold their hands up and accept they did not know what is and is not acceptable. Despite the increased air-time these important issues are getting, the programme made it clear that greater awareness is needed and, for some people, including young people – men and women – the line is still unclear.
The emphasis is on “some”. Much of the criticism from the Gillette campaign has been levelled at the assertion of toxic masculinity, and the idea that the advert portrays most men as sexual harassers or bullies. Others have praised the ad, for recognising that times are changing and men play an important part in promoting this social change – be it in the workplace or otherwise – and there is an obligation on us all to challenge behaviour.
What is clear is that opinions are divided. This week, GQ published a provocative article, “Gentlemen, here’s how to actually help women in the workplace”, which reminds its readers that the attention #MeToo issues are getting, does not actually mean that the working world is changing – boards are still dominated by men and women still assume most of the childcare responsibilities. These are facts, rather than opinions, and the UN statistics mentioned above, serve as a stark reminder that the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace is far from over.
It is more important than ever before to address workplace behaviour and it is no longer enough to simply rely on the existence of policies. Managing issues that arise and behaviour at work is complex and requires sensitive handling.
If you would like to discuss how best to protect your business and staff, including training, then do please get in touch with a member of the team.
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Louisa Button is an employment associate
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