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Workplace “banter” results in shameful sexual harassment of most British women

An astonishing 52 per cent of women in the UK have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment at work, but it’s usually passed off as “banter”. Alarmingly, that figure climbs even further among young women as almost two-thirds have been on the receiving end of said banter.
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The report comes from the TUC, which teamed with Everyday Sexism Project and YouGov to conduct the research and it’s been hailed as “one of the most extensive pieces of research on sexual harassment at work in Europe”.

The sexual harassment in question has been viewed in various forms, including indecent remarks, sex life jokes, pornography circulation, touching, hugging, kissing and even requests for sexual favours.

“How many times do we still hear that sexual harassment in the workplace is just a bit of ‘banter’?” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

“Let’s be clear – sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health. Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.

Men were the perpetrators in 88 per cent of cases, according to the study, and a proportion of them are taking advantage of their workplace power as 17 per cent of women said a line manager was responsible for the harassment.

The practice has resulted in 52 per cent of working women falling victim to uncomfortable scenarios of a sexual nature, with that number rising to 63 per cent among 18-24 year olds.

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O’Grady continued: “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.”

She suggested anyone with concerns of inappropriate behaviour joins a union for protection and respect in the workplace.

“Anyone worried about inappropriate behaviour at work should join a union to make sure they are protected and respected at work.”

The most common forms of sexual harassment at work:

(1) 32 per cent of women have experienced sexual jokes

(2) 28 per cent of women have experienced sexual remarks about their body or clothes

(3) 23 per cent of women have experienced touching in areas such as the knee and lower back

(4) 20 per cent of women have experienced sexual advances of a verbal nature

(5) 12 per cent of women have experienced sexual touching and kissing attempts

Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, said: “Many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past. In reality, it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.”

Despite the severity of the issue, some 79 per cent of women who have been on the receiving end of the harassment have not told their employers.

The top reasons cited for keeping the behaviour quiet included belief there would be a negative impact on work relationships and fear they wouldn’t be taken seriously at 28 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. Other reasons were embarrassment and fear of career progression issues at 20 per cent and 15 per cent.

“These findings reveal the shameful extent of the problem and the reality of the touching, unwanted advances, and inappropriate comments women find themselves confronted with while simply trying to do their jobs,” Bates added.

“This is shameful behaviour that has no place in 2016 and employers need to take urgent action to tackle the problem.”

Sexism in the professional environment – where’s the line?

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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