CBI sexual misconduct scandal comes as no surprise to HR professionals

Employment professionals have said widespread sexual misconduct claims against the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are unsurprising despite the increased number of diversity policies in UK workplaces.

The CBI is facing widespread claims of sexual misconduct and a toxic culture, including one employee who claimed she was raped at a staff party on a boat on the river Thames. 

An independent investigation is now being carried out at the business lobbying organisation by a law firm. 

More on sexual misconduct:

Allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace

Employer guilty of sexual harassment by appeal process

Reporting workplace misconduct: the value of independence

More than a dozen women told the Guardian the CBI had a toxic culture 

Claims included an attempted sexual assault by a manager at the same boat party as the rape accusation, and a senior manager sending explicit images to a junior member of staff over a number of years. 

The use of cocaine at CBI official events was also widespread, the sources claimed. 

The news comes after separate complaints of alleged sexual harassment were made earlier this year against Toby Danker, director general at the CBI.  

Danker has stood down pending the outcome of the investigation. 

Angela O’Connor, CEO of the HR lounge, said these allegations were unsurprising given the number of toxic workplace cultures in the UK.  

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Having undertaken a number of large-scale investigations and reviews into toxic cultures I am not in the slightest bit surprised but I continue to be disappointed at the poor behaviour of men in organisations.  

“I am also fed up of hearing about the D&I initiatives of some organisations that are frankly a waste of time and energy, window dressing that does not get underneath the real issues that staff are facing.”

To genuinely improve toxic culture, she argued organisations must understand and accept the current environment that female employees face. 

“This is a widespread issue in organisations and sadly there will be more to come. The smart organisations will act now to examine their culture and the resilience of their approaches,” she said. 

O’Connor called on HR teams to take a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct claims.  

She added: “Sack those who are guilty of poor action even if they are your most senior top performers. Define very clearly and specifically the behaviours that you want and don’t want and integrate them into your recruitment, promotion, training and performance approaches.” 

Michelle Last, employment partner at Keystone Law, said inactive employers face serious legal implications and irreparable damage to their reputation. 

Speaking to HR magazine: “They are seen as colluding in covering up sexual harassment and assault, resulting in serious reputational damage, departing employees and potential employment tribunal and personal injury claims.  

“Employers should be subject to a statutory code of conduct that requires them to immediately suspend any employee accused of sexual harassment or assault at work. We are facing an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault and we need a cure.” 

O’Connor said HR teams who have received similar reports of sexual misconduct must take decisive steps to eliminate it. 

She said: “Employers who want to improve things must send a clear message from the top that there is no hiding place for poor behaviour and that there will be real and sustainable  change. 

“Change your investigation processes and if necessary use external investigators if there is not enough trust between staff and management. Ensure that everyone understands how to raise issues and ensure that your processes work.”