We need to rethink how we approach sexual harassment.

In July 2021 the UK Government committed to legislation for a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, following campaigning by Fawcett and other groups off the back of the MeToo movement. This move recognises that sexual harassment is not just about the aberrant behaviour of a few individuals. It is about a culture within workplaces where every day behaviour which violates the dignity of, predominantly, women, is too often treated as acceptable “banter”.

Key findings from our latest report, Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, shows that: 

  • At least 40% of women have experienced workplace harassment, and women who are marginalised for other reasons, such as race or disability, face an increased risk and different forms of sexual harassment
  • 45% of women in a recent survey reported experiencing harassment online through sexual messages, cyber harassment and sexual calls
  • Almost a quarter of women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment had increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while they were working from home
  • Almost seven in ten (68%) disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work, compared to 52% of women in general
  • Ethnic minority workers (women and men) reported higher rates (32%) of sexual harassment than white workers (28%) over the last 12 months
  • A poll of LGBT workers found that 68% had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace

This culture is upheld by the way many employers approach sexual harassment, seeking to quietly resolve incidents after they have happened, and to minimize liability. This approach is an individualised response to an institutional problem. It can make things even worse for employees who report sexual harassment, who can face victimisation and retaliation.

Women often recognise this risk, and choose not to report at all, leading to a vicious cycle where managers and leaders do not know what is happening in their organisations, and policies sit on the shelf unused.  Despite best intentions, many managers do not feel equipped to handle cases of sexual harassment.  Environments like this hold back employers who want to create a diverse, productive and people-focused organisation – and can reduce profits.

There is now a regulatory need for employers to shift from an approach that seeks to minimise liability, to one that seeks to create organisational cultures and norms that prevent sexual harassment.

Our review of the current research identifies five key requirements to create a workplace that does not tolerate sexual harassment: culture, policy, training, reporting mechanisms and the way employers respond to reports. Successful and lasting change requires sustained commitment, and we show how in this report.  

READ THE FULL REPORT

In the new year, with our partners, we will publish an employer toolkit building on this insight to continue to support organisations to change. You can sign up to receive the toolkit here

This will help create workplaces where women are safe to report incidents of sexual harassment and employers will be able to respond appropriately – it will create an environment where sexual harassment does not happen in the first place.

This report was made possible by the Justice and Equality Fund from Time’s Up and provided through Rosa. The research is part of a wider project on workplace sexual harassment with our partners Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, and Close the Gap. With thanks to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) for their support and sharing the manager survey with their members.

The report combines three evidence sources: a literature review of what works to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace; a call for evidence from women who had experienced sexual harassment, with 290 responses; and a survey of 236 managers.