Fawcett Society outlines how to prevent workplace sexual harassment

Women's rights charity the Fawcett Society has set out five pillars to change organisational culture to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

The pillars form part of a new employer toolkit developed ahead of the government's decision impose a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in their workplace, and for companies to be legally accountable for harassment that employees experience from third parties, such as customers and clients. 

Speaking at an event announcing the new toolkit yesterday (22 February) Alison Henderson, policy and research manager at the Fawcett Society, said: “[The requirement] really is a change, because previously it only required you to take reasonable steps. 

“This is a much more productive step.”

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The duty for employers to tackle sexual harassment was announced in July 2021 after a public consultation.

Henderson said that one of the problems with workplace harassment is that is often mistakenly associated with one-off, significant, incidents.

She said: “In fact, it’s often these very, very small incidents, whether it’s a comment or joke, or just looks or intrusive questions.

“All of these lead up to a culture where this kind of thing is just assumed to be normal and treated as acceptable banter, and yet that’s very painful and can be very traumatic to experience on a daily basis.”

A culture where minor instances of harassment are normal, she added, is part of why people often don’t report sexual harassment.

Deeba Syed, senior legal officer at charity Rights of Women, added: “We see women telling us over and over again that the perpetrator has a history of problematic behaviour.

“[The perpetrator has] a history of bullying, a history of racist comments, but instead of the perpetrator ever feeling any consequence, you just see a stream of women who have left the organisation because of him, or indirectly because of him, because of the culture he’s created.”

This movement of women between roles, or out of the workforce, has a knock-on economic effect, added Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

By addressing harassment and moving to a more equal society, she said: “Estimates suggest we could bring over £150 billion just to the British economy.”

She warned, however, that many employers, especially smaller companies, are underprepared for their new duties against sexual harassment.

She said: “That’s the situation with small and medium-sized firms on any legislation or change.”

She added: “And I think one of the things that we hear from our members is that 90% of small and medium-sized firms don't have any HR function – there's no systematic approach.

“I think firms up and down the country would really welcome this new guidance and the new legislation."

The five pillars of tackling sexual harassment set out in the toolkit are: 

  • Change your workplace culture
  • Put in place a sexual harassment policy
  • Train your employees
  • Make it safe and easy for them to report
  • Respond appropriately to employees’ reports


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