Sexual Harassment at Work: Why We Need to Press for Progress

Yesterday, I had the honour of being one of 100 women who were part of a live audience for the Sky News 100 Women debate. Hosted by Kay Burley with a panel of women all prominent in their respective fields, issues concerning gender equality were debated.
A headline figure from one of the polls that Sky News conducted in advance of the 100 Women programme was that 75% of men said they had not changed their behaviour to avoid being called sexist, over the last few years.
With all the scandals that have come to light in recent months, the fact that 75% of men have not changed their behaviour, is a cause for concern. Unless these men are confident in the fact that their behaviour could not be called sexist. Unfortunately, the poll did not ask sufficient questions to determine whether this was the case.
According to one poll, one in five women have been sexually harassed at work. The Trade Union Council (TUC) published a report on sexual harassment in the workplace in 2016. The report found that four out of five women did not report sexual harassment to their employer. Of those who did report it, 75% felt that there was no change and 16% said that they were treated worse as a result.
Fear of losing their job, fear of not being believed, embarrassment, doubting themselves and questioning whether they may have encouraged it are just some of the reasons preventing women from speaking up.
As someone who coaches women who have experienced sexual harassment, I have seen the stress it puts women under and the negative impact the experience can have on their careers, personal lives, and self confidence.
The Financial Times reported today that sexual harassment is a fact of life at UK law firms. It reports that 42% of women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment, yet the Solicitors Regulation Authority had only received 21 complaints within two years.
In a survey of 1,000 lawyers and other employees working in the UK’s top 100 law firms, The Lawyer, a trade publication, found that 42 per cent of women said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, from suggestive comments to propositioning and unwanted physical contact. However, in the two years to October 2017, the Solicitors Regulation Authority received only 21 complaints of sexual harassment within law firms, and has received just two reports since then, suggesting that women prefer either to keep quiet about their experiences or have left their jobs after signing an NDA.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that prominent, government Harvard professor Jorge I Dominguez resigned following a decision by the university to place him on leave as a result of accusations of sexual harassment by at least 18 women. 
It seems that not a week goes by where there is not a case of sexual harassment reported. Whilst it is good that these cases are making headline news, it is not good that in 2018, this behaviour continues.

The impact to women starting out in their careers

For women starting out in their careers who have not yet experienced the world of work, it can have a devastating affect on their career outlook, if they do not receive appropriate support at the time. One trainee solicitor told me that there was an expectation that trainees would go to the hotel rooms of managing partners at night when on overnight away days, if they wanted to progress. She couldn’t do it because not only did it go against her beliefs as a Christian, it was not right. The pressure that this put on her was so much that she was considering leaving law.
An engineer who was a graduate management trainee was frequently the subject of banter between the middle aged men she was expected to manage. She would often be subject to inappropriate comments even though she was modestly dressed. Her confidence levels had taken a dive and she felt that there was no one she could talk to about it.
It is appalling that these women have to experience this despicable behaviour. How would their perpetrators feel if their daughters, nieces, or other young female family member had to go through this?

Sexual harassment on social media

It doesn’t just happen in the workplace, it also happens here on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. LinkedIn is meant to be a professional networking site, but some men feel that it is appropriate to use the platform to sexually harass women.
Inappropriate connection requests and messages, whilst we are able to block them, they are free to go and sexually harass somebody else.

Why do men do it?

Why do some men feel that it is ok to sexually harass women in the workplace? The US channel CNBC spoke to 3 psychologists to break down the possible psychological motivations behind why men harass and abuse their female colleagues. These psychological motivations are: -
·       A desire to "protect occupational territory"
·       Approval of sexual objectification
·       Perceived invincibility
·       Exhibitionistic disorder
Without tougher sanctions, if a man continues to get away with sexually harassing a woman, what incentive is there for him to stop?

Should sexual harassment be a criminal offence?

The Equalities Act 2010 covers sexual harassment in the workplace, the sanctions ranging from first written warning through to dismissal, but is this enough? Should sexual harassment be made a criminal offence?
There are various pieces of legislation that someone can be prosecuted under, dependent on the nature of the behaviour, but is it now time that sexual harassment was brought under one piece of legislation? Should it be the case that where someone is found to have committed sexual harassment in the workplace, they then face a criminal prosecution?

We need to press for progress

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Press for Progress’ and sexual harassment is an area where there certainly needs to be a press for progress. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, please do not suffer in silence. Keep a record of the incidents, speak to someone who you trust such as your trade union representative, a trusted colleague or friend, and report it formally according to your company’s policy on sexual harassment.
If you observe sexual harassment taking place in your work place, do not turn a blind eye, call it out.
What is your opinion on the recent headline cases of sexual harassment and how it is being dealt with? Do you think sexual harassment should be made a criminal offence? Please share your views in the comments below.
I am The Coach for High Achieving Introverted Women, an Executive, Career, Business Coach, Writer, Speaker, LinkedIn Top Voice UK 2017 and the founder of Abounding Solutions . With over 25 years coaching and leadership experience, I help women (with a particular emphasis on introverted women) to be authentic, bold, confident leaders and excel in their careers and businesses.
I also help organisations develop the talent pipeline of female employees so that more women make it to senior management roles.
Are you a high achieving introverted senior woman? If so, join my new LinkedIn community for high achieving introverted senior women, who are members of senior management teams or executive teams. It is a place to discuss issues relating to your career and how to thrive in environments that don't view introversion as a strength. Come and join the conversation here.
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