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Most employees have witnessed sexism at work

Research finds gender discrimination is rife at work as business community reacts to Presidents Club harassment revelations.

More than four in five (85%) women and 80% of men have witnessed gender-discriminatory acts at work, according to research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

The CMI’s report, A Blueprint for Balance: time to fix the broken windows, looks into gender diversity best practices, and found that the majority of organisations are still struggling to make a meaningful difference to achieving a gender-balanced workplace.

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Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said that the research shows a clear discrepancy between employers’ intentions and their actions over gender equality. “There’s a difference between rhetoric and reality. I have no doubt that there are people in senior levels of organisations who want to help, but we’ve seen with the pay gap, companies’ cultures and continuing cases of sexual harassment that it’s not enough,” she told HR magazine.

According to the report’s survey of 856 managers, just one in four (25%) say that their peers and senior leaders ‘actively and visibly champion gender initiatives'. This is in spite of a recent study by management consultancy McKinsey, which found that globally the most gender diverse businesses are 21% more likely to financially over-perform than their peers.

Despite the introduction of new pay transparency reporting regulations in April 2017, only 8% of managers know the size of their organisation’s gender pay gap, while 41% claim that their organisation does not have a gender pay gap.

The CMI survey also revealed that less than a third of managers feel their companies promote gender diversity. The majority (59%) believe that their employer is failing to provide mentoring and sponsorship opportunities, and half (48%) say that their organisation’s management culture does not support gender balance.

Francke said that HR professionals must get tougher on sexism at work. “As the research shows, the majority of workers have witnessed some form of sexist behaviour but nothing is being done about it," she said. "This is partially out of complacency; where they’ve become so used to this behaviour that it's brushed aside as cases of ‘men behaving badly, or they become too scared to come forward because of how it will affect their careers.

“It’s time for HR, and for everyone in the workplace, to get tough on sexism and show that it’s unacceptable and that there will be consequences.”

The CMI survey comes in the wake of revelations regarding The Presidents Club's annual charity dinner. An FT undercover report revealed that hostesses were groped at this men-only event. Former Department for Education non-executive board member David Meller, new education minister Nadhim Zahawi and retail tycoon Philip Green were among the men who attended.

The CMI's Francke told the BBC: "If you're a captain of industry in 2018 do you really want your shareholders, your customers, your employees to see you associated with things like this? And all of the people who attended should have thought about that before they walked through that door."

Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI's director-general, said: "If even half of what's been written about this event is true, it is deplorable and confirms how far we have still to go to stamp out sexual harassment."

Another survey has found that almost a third of theatre professionals in the UK have been sexually harassed at work.

The Stage magazine surveyed 1,050 theatre workers and students, with 31% saying they had suffered sexual harassment. Forty-three per cent said they had been bullied and 8% said they had been sexually assaulted at work.

It also found that 67% of victims did not report incidents, and when an assault was reported no action was taken in 79% of cases.