Sexual harassment at work is sadly not a thing of the past. An extensive new study on gender and the workplace in the UK has revealed that 52% of British women say they have experienced sexual harassment whilst doing their job.
The figures suggest the situation has not improved for younger generations. A shocking two-thirds of women aged 18-24 years say they have experienced workplace harassment.
The report entitled, “Still just a bit of banter?” was published by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in partnership with the Everyday Sexism Project. Based on the results of a survey of 1,500 women, the study exposes the different forms of sexual harassment that take place today.
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It reveals that one in three women have been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature while at work, while nearly a quarter have experienced unwanted touching. Twelve percent reported experiencing unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them.
The vast majority (79%) of the women who had experienced sexual harassment at work said they did not tell their employer about what was happening. Those surveyed cited a fear that it would jeopardise their future career prospects, embarrassment, and a belief that it would not be taken seriously as the main reason for not informing their employer.
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The results of the survey may be shocking, but they are not necessarily surprising to the countless women who have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. In response, women have taken to Twitter to share their stories of harassment through the hashtag #HarassedAtWork:
From rape jokes
@EverydaySexism Working alone in a sound studio, the sound engineer *joked* about how nobody would hear me if I screamed #HarassedAtWork— Kara Scott (@KaraOTR) August 10, 2016
To unwanted sexual comments
"What can I get you?"— Al Jones (@jones_alys) August 10, 2016
"I'll have a bit of you hahahahahaha"- middle aged male customer to me, age 16. #HarassedAtWork
@EverydaySexism Another asked me if I wasn't afraid to go to the archives alone with himself as "anything could happen." #harassedatwork— Ms. Houyaux (@JustineHouyaux) August 10, 2016
#HarassedAtWork when I was 16 & waitressing, local mayor asked me to pole dance for him.— Lisa Diveney (@diveneyla) August 10, 2016
Or even sexual advances
Male volunteer told me he didn't like my management style and then tried to kiss me #HarassedAtWork— pippajbanham (@pippajbanham) August 10, 2016
Years ago, I had a colleague who'd press his crotch up against my butt behind the bar while I was serving customers. #harassedatwork— Grace Latter. (@GracieActually) August 10, 2016
Had my arse slapped by a much older male colleague in a previous job... Told him I'd break his fingers if he tried again... #harassedatwork— Laura (@lauralu13) August 10, 2016
LGBT women also reported experiences of harassment combined with homophobia
.@EverydaySexism In relationship with another woman. Freelance client once told me "you just haven't had the right dick yet" #HarassedAtWork— Petya L.B. (@twomiletower) August 10, 2016
Former coworker consistently commented that I "didn't look gay", & that I couldn't blame men for forgetting.#HarassedAtWork@EverydaySexism— Danielle Higdon (@DeeHigdon) August 10, 2016
And the hashtag gave space to men who had experienced workplace harassment, too
As an out gay man, female employees seem to find it acceptable to touch me all the time. "Oh it's ok, he's a gay!" #sigh#HarassedAtWork— Adam (@thegaymeradam) August 10, 2016
Inevitably, these tweets triggered a misogynistic backlash from some
#HarassedAtWork— Michael (@_MisterBlack_) August 10, 2016
What's that, you're giving me a holiday with pay? HARASSMENT!
Tweets that simultaneously *spectacularly* miss the point & show why #harassedatwork research is necessary. Bravo. pic.twitter.com/WBpfiX7dQb— Brenna (@NennaBaston) August 10, 2016
But this could not drown out the volume of real life experiences exposing the reality of workplace harassment. The fact that many people — including those in positions of power — still feel sexual harassment can be played down, ignored or dismissed as “just a bit of banter” shows how far there is to go in achieving gender equality.
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In a statement accompanying the report, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady asserted the need to confront sexual harassment head on.
“Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health,” she said. “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.”
Sexual harassment is a problem that has no place in the 21st century. From demands for equal pay for equal work, to the outcry against workplace harassment, it's time employers ensured women equal rights and protections for simply trying to do their job.