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Sexual harassment in the workplace

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In recent times there have been changes made by employers to tackle sexual harassment, how prominent is sexual harassment today and how can we prevent it?

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant issue in today’s day and age, with still a large number of victims still falling to these issues at work. Recent movements in the #MeToo campaign have helped in aiding this cause. By creating a number of procedures for companies to follow. However, this is still such a prominent issue, as in recent times, even large tech company like Google have been criticised for their treatment of sexual harassment. So how prominent is the workplace in the office, and what can companies do to address these situations.

How apparent is sexual harassment in the office?

A study initiated by Opinium Research revealed that 14 per cent of people in the UK have experienced sexual harassment at work – rising to 20 per cent among women and dropping to seven per cent among men in recent times, so there seems to not be any significant positive changes that have been made in recent times.

Julie Provino is an international HR leader, founder of VeryHR believes that the current processes that are put in place by companies are not enough to combat sexual harassment. Shes says “When it comes to tackling workplace harassment, recent changes to policies are proving to be inadequate. The existence of non-disclosure agreements is allowing the very culprits of workplace harassments to carry on business as usual, without any fear of consequences as commercially businesses cannot seemingly operate without them. From my own experience as an HR professional, I know how much these non-disclosure agreements happen – often with the sexual harassment being ‘resolved’ by removing the victim with a payout to soften the blow, while the perpetrator remains in the company for a longer while plan B is executed upon – and this may take months. The question which challenges HR and Senior Management Teams is who bares the consequences of the situation? Punishing the culprit or exiting the victim?”

It seems that although for some employers there are certain policies put in place to tackle sexual harassment, there are much more that employers could potentially do to prevent this issue.

However due to the recent advancements in the #MeToo campaign, more employers are producing detailed, and often strict, employee guidelines to help prevent sexual harassment, these include. Employees should not display images of a sexual nature in the workplace. Employees should not engage in inappropriate touching; including pinching, patting, rubbing or purposefully brushing up against another person. Employees should not leer or stare at another person’s body to name a few. So although there have been critics that have said that employers could be doing more, it does seem that due to these advancements, that it is going in the right direction.

What impact can this have on the victims?

But what effect can workplace sexual harassment have those that experience it? While some do see the way they treat staff as a joke, for others this abuse simply can’t be laughed over. With sexual harassment being said to have a negative impact on the victims mental health, it can make them feel undermined and undervalued, which could ultimately affect their confidence at work. This could hamper the likelihood of them speaking up about this when being sexually harassed. With a report by Trades Union Congress (TUC) called ‘Still just a bit of banter’ it revealed that four in five women did not report their sexual harassment to their employer. As well as this, in the same report, they addressed why such a large number of victims decided not to report this harassment. The most common reason for this was because they thought this would have a negative impact on their relationships at work at 28%. Other findings found that out of the people that did report their case. 70% said there was no change. While 16% were treated worse, and only 10% said they were treated better.

Eric Pliner, Chief commercial officer at leadership consultancy firm YSC Consulting commented on how much of an effect sexual harassment in the workplace. “Sexual harassment is also a business issue, as it affects employees’ ability to be fully present at work, their belief in their ability to be successful in their organisations, and their ability to collaborate successfully. This can then have financial ramifications through significant productivity loss, contractual or punitive resolution fees (both to harasser and those harassed), and employee turnover and replacement costs – as evidenced by Google’s recent actions.”

What can employers and leaders do to prevent this?

Although employers are constantly implementing positive guidelines to follow, Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) have listed a few aspects that employees can do to ensure that this problem is reduced in the workplace. Such as “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 to six months for submitting a claim, introducing punitive damages for employers’ breaches and reducing cost risks for employees”

Claire Nightingale, Global Head of FINEX Financial Institutions, comments on how employers can be proactive, saying “Firms would be making a mistake, not to be on the front foot, both proactively embedding values and behaviour into their expectations of employees, and creating an environment where speaking up is fostered.”

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) noticeably have put together ways to tackle sexual harassment, with them adopting a Senior Managers & Certification Regime (SM&CR) this will encompass the issue of sexual harassment in financial services, and determine whether individuals are “fit and proper,”

Claire Nightingale, Global Head of FINEX Financial Institutions commented on this update from FCA, saying “It is unclear, at this stage, how forthright the FCA will be in its supervisory focus; any regulator will have limitations on what it can do, and would no doubt be subject to challenge were it to seek to revoke approval, without very clear evidence. It may be that the focus is as much around whistleblowing, and how effectively those systems and controls work. But any indication that sexual harassment will not be tolerated is clearly a good thing. As the FCA’s Megan Butler has said, the term ‘fit and proper’ should not just be assessed in terms of financial decision-making, but against a broader set of values, cultural and otherwise.”

If this was to come into force, it could drastically alter the shape and operation of internal sexual harassment policies at firms. Although sexual harassment has proven to still be a prominent issue in the workplace, and there is still a long way to go. It appears as if there are positive changes being made to constantly improve this in the workplace.

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