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Improve workplace culture to tackle sexual harassment, finds report

Sexual harassment is more effectively tackled when treated as a symptom of workplace culture, rather than as an issue of individual behaviour.

A report by gender equality charity Fawcett Society, in partnership with Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, and Close the Gap, suggested that HR directors focus their efforts on changing company culture.

Two fifths of women (40%) have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career, the report said.

Over two thirds (68%) of disabled women reported being sexually harassed at work, compared with 52% of women in general. Two thirds (68%) of LGBT workers had experienced some form of harassment.

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Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “Sexual harassment at work is endemic, and it’s clear why: employers are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to handle reports. This creates a culture where the focus is on managing liability rather than stopping perpetrators and supporting women.

Employers need to take a look at their workplace culture and put in place the effective strategies to stamp out sexual harassment once and for all.”

The report said: “Over one in five (23%) women who had been sexually harassed said the harassment increased or escalated since the start of the pandemic while working from home.”

The report advised: “It is vital to provide examples of behaviours that constitute sexual harassment, because research has found that perceptions of what constitutes sexual harassment vary between people (especially men and women.)”

By ordering an organisational review and conducting an anonymous 'climate survey', such as an internal poll, companies can register the extent of sexual harassment in their workplace, and understand how effective their current practices are.

Once the extent of the problem has been established, the report advised, employers should publish and regularly advertise their policy to employees. 

It said: “A demonstrated commitment to tackling sexual harassment is needed to foster an organisational culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment.”

“The existence of multiple secure, well-functioning, and well-known sexual harassment reporting routes can increase reporting rates and contribute to culture change efforts within an organisation.”

For any culture shift to take place, sexual harassment reports must result in action, the report concluded.