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The Government, regulators and employers are failing in their responsibilities to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, says the Women and Equalities Committee in their report, following a wide-ranging six-month inquiry.
- The Committee finds that sexual harassment at work is widespread and commonplace but there has been a failure to tackle unlawful behaviours, despite the Government’s obligations under international law.
- Employers and regulators have ignored their responsibilities for too long, says the Committee, and often legal protections are not available to workers in practice.
- 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace [Source: ComRes poll for the BBC].
Putting sexual harassment at the top of the agenda
The report calls on Government to focus on five priorities to put sexual harassment at the top of the agenda for employers:
- Introduce a new duty on employers to prevent harassment, supported by a statutory code of practice outlining the steps they can take to do this; and ensuring that interns, volunteers and those harassed by third parties have access to the same legal protections and remedies as their workplace colleagues;
- Require regulators to take a more active role, starting by setting out the actions they will take to help tackle this problem, including the enforcement action they will take; and making it clear to those they regulate that sexual harassment is a breach of professional standards and a reportable offence with sanctions;
- Make enforcement processes work better for employees by setting out in the statutory code of practice what employers should do to tackle sexual harassment; and reducing barriers to taking forward tribunal cases, including by extending the time limit for submitting a claim, introducing punitive damages for employers and reducing cost risks for employees;
- Clean up the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), including by requiring the use of standard, plain English confidentiality clauses, which set out the meaning, limit and effect of the clause, and making it an offence to misuse such clauses; and extending whistleblowing protections so that disclosures to the police and regulators such as the EHRC are protected;
- Collect robust data on the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace and on the number of employment tribunal claims involving complaints of harassment of a sexual nature.
Current system is inadequate
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:
It is utterly shameful that in 2018, unwanted sexual comments, touching, groping and assault are seen as an everyday occurrence and part of the culture in many workplaces.
Government, regulators and employers have been dodging their responsibilities for far too long.
There is currently little incentive for employers to take robust action.
In contrast, there is considerable focus on other corporate governance issues like protecting people’s personal data and preventing money laundering, with stringent requirements on employers and businesses to meet their responsibilities.
It’s time to put the same emphasis on tackling sexual harassment.
The effects of sexual harassment can be traumatic and devastating, and this is reinforced by the personal evidence we received.
The lack of appropriate support for victims within the workplace cannot continue.
The burden falls unacceptably on the individual to hold harassers and employers to account when they will already hesitate to do so due to fear of victimisation.
The current system is inadequate: the tribunal system must provide an effective remedy for employees.
NDAs have their place in settling complaints, but they must not be used to prevent or dissuade victims from reporting incidents as is clearly the case now.
We expect proper regulation of NDAs and that any unethical practices lead to strong and appropriate sanctions.”
Women and Equalities Committee launches a full inquiry on Sexual harassment in the workplace and is now inviting submissions of written evidence.
Following the one-off evidence session of 31 January on Sexual harassment in the workplace The Women and Equalities Committee is launching an inquiry to consider in more depth some of the issues raised.
As well as assessing the extent of the problem, who the perpetrators are and why it happens, the inquiry will focus on what should be done to tackle harassment more effectively.
Issues the Committee will look at include:
- action that the Government and employers can take to change workplace culture, increase confidence to report problems, and make tackling harassment a higher priority
- how staff can be better protected from sexual harassment by clients, customers and others
- how effective – and accessible – tribunals and other legal means of redress are, and what improvements could be made to those systems
the pros and cons of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases, and what can be done to prevent inappropriate use of NDAs.
‘Workplace culture’ needs change in relation to sexual harassment.
Maria Miller MP, Committee Chair said:
Over the past few months there have been widespread reports of women’s appalling experiences of sexual harassment at work.
Our recent evidence session with legal experts, employee and employers representatives painted a stark picture.
Clearly much more needs to be done, both by Government and employers: this inquiry is about identifying solutions.
We need to change workplace culture, keep women safe and provide effective legal remedies.
We also need to understand whether non-disclosure agreements are being abused by legal experts and employers to cover up wrongdoing.
The Committee would welcome evidence on how best to tackle these problems, currently faced by thousands of people at work.
Submission of views
The Committee is now inviting written evidence specifically on:
- how widespread sexual harassment in the workplace is, and whether this has increased or decreased over time
- who experiences sexual harassment in the workplace, who perpetrates it and what the impact is on different groups
actions that the Government and employers should be taking to change workplace culture to prevent sexual harassment, give people more confidence to report sexual harassment, and make this issue a higher priority for employers
- how workers can be better protected from sexual harassment by clients, customers and other third parties
- the effectiveness and accessibility of tribunals and other legal means of redress and what can be done to improve those processes
the advantages and disadvantages of using non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases, including how inappropriate use of such agreements might be tackled
The deadline for submissions is Tuesday 13 March 2018.
Each year, Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey takes a snapshot of what girls and young women think on a wide range of issues.
A platform to be heard
The survey gives girls’ and young women’s voices a platform to be heard and taken into account at the highest levels of decision-making across the UK. It empowers girls to speak out on the issues that really matter to them and affect their lives today. This major survey, now in its eighth year, canvasses the opinions of over 1,600 girls and young women aged 7 to 21, inside and outside guiding across the UK.
The findings in 2016 build on those from previous years. They give an insight into how girls feel about the specific and emerging pressures facing them today, and what these mean for their happiness, well-being and opportunities in life. Girlguiding’s youth panel, Advocate, leads the development of the survey each year and analyses the results.
Girls are being held back
This year girls and young women tell us that they are being held back from having full lives and from achieving their aspirations. Girls are saying they can’t do the things they’d like because they don’t feel safe or because of double standards on what behaviours are acceptable or what roles are open to them compared with boys.
Yet it’s clear girls are challenging this unfairness.
They are reclaiming the internet to express their views and have a voice, with half of girls saying social media empowers them to speak out.
Calling out sexism
They are calling out sexism where they see it and demanding that girls and women aren’t judged by how they look and have equal opportunities now and in their futures. From as young as seven, girls feel the impact of daily sexist images of women and girls in the media, online and around them. Girls tell us that sexist objectification of women in the media makes them feel disempowered and that gender stereotypes make them feel that their gender will hold them back in life.
Intense pressures – how they look, about fitting in, affording things
They tell us they have to confront intense and unobtainable appearance pressures to be perfect and many say they feel they’re not good enough. Girls tell us that because of abuse online they don’t feel able to have a voice on the things they care about.
They think sexism is worse online and girls are being sent unwanted sexualised images and videos.
Girls also tell us they don’t feel safe to go where they want and face harassment from boys when they are out and about. Girls are changing their own behaviour to avoid being harassed or intimidated.
Girls also tell us they are facing immense pressures at school and beyond. From a young age girls are worried about fitting in.
Older girls tell us they are fearful about finding a job, paying university tuition fees and affording a home. For too many, these experiences reflect the continued decline in their happiness and mental well-being.
Education not fitting their needs
At school, too few girls are getting the opportunity to learn about the role that women have played across different academic subjects or gain the skills they need to live their lives well. Only half of girls feel inspired by their education, suggesting there is still a long way to go in making sure education meets their needs.
A better world
The findings show that girls have a clear vision for a better world. Despite the pressures they face, girls and young women are passionate about challenging these pressures and the unequal expectations they face.
They tell us they want to see more positive images of women and girls around them in the media and in the jobs they aspire to.
Overwhelmingly, girls want to live in a world without gender stereotypes, where women and girls aren’t judged on how they look, where they are safe and where people are not discriminated against.
Despite efforts to silence them through online abuse and everyday sexism, girls tell us they are using their voice to call out inequality.
Girls are using online forums to use their voice, and to connect with others on the things they care about.
Girls are proud of their achievements and are full of ideas about what they want to do in their futures. There are girls who feel they can do anything if they try, feel adventurous, are proud of something they’ve achieved and feel brave.
There are girls who tell us they’ve had a positive experience of school and being online and are happy. Yet much remains to be done so that girls are not adapting their own behaviour and aspirations to navigate an unequal society.
Instead society needs to change to meet girls’ expectations and support them to fulfil their potential. By listening to girls we can address the barriers they face to achieving their aspirations and support them to flourish.
Visit our searchable Knowledge Bank for reports on Gender Diversity, Leadership and related topics.
Previous Girlguiding surveys can be found its website.