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HR not doing enough to combat sexist behaviour in the workplace

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HR teams are not taking enough preventive measures to stop cases of sexism and sexual harassment taking place in the workplace.

A quarter (25%) of female HR managers said their organisations do not take proactive action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, compared with 17% of male HR managers.

Equality charity Young Women’s Trust surveyed HR leaders about the prevalence of sexism in the workplace and found that more needs to be done to safeguard women at work.

A third (33%) of female HR managers agree sexist behaviour is present in their organisation and a quarter (25%) said they think it is harder for women to progress in their organisation than men.

However, one in ten (9%) HR managers reported that, within the last year, they have been aware of young women aged between 18 and 30 being patronised and having their opinions overlooked.

Mark Gale, head of policy and campaigns at Young Women’s Trust, said that while some employees are getting to grips with the challenges of sexism in the workplace, the research shows there is still a long way to go.

Speaking to HR magazine he said: “HR departments have a responsibility and an opportunity to tackle the issue head on, not only to improve staff wellbeing but to boost diversity and productivity in their organisations.

“In order to combat sexism in the workplace, HR departments can put in place a range of initiatives.”

Gale said taking positive action to increase diversity at different levels of the organisation is an important first step.

He said: “This could include setting targets, using blind CVs and making use of tie-breakers to shortlist and appoint under-represented groups.

“Young Women’s Trust would like to see more employers assessing their gender pay gap and publishing plans to understand the causes and make improvements.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on sexism in the workplace, as employees had to work remotely and weren't able to properly report cases of sexual harassment.

Agata Nowakowska, area vice president at e-learning company Skillsoft, told HR magazine the pandemic has accelerated the need to re-evaluate harassment policies nationwide.

She said: “In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken steps aimed specifically at preventing harassment outside of the physical workplace by documenting that discussions held in public and on social media can be classified as workplace harassment.

“Employers should update language related to remote work in harassment policies to ensure expectations are clear and well documented.”

Nowakowska said employers should also evaluate their compliance training programmes and audit classes to apply to remote work environments.

“Reinforcing anonymous reporting hotlines is also crucial, so employees know who they can go to and how they can seek help if they need it.

“Employers need to reiterate expectations for employees and remind them they are at work, to discourage them from letting their guard down,” she said.

Young Women’s Trust commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey of 862 HR decision-makers between 11 and 17 February 2021.