Networking in Surrey

Following the revelations of sexual harassment and assault - and allegations of rape - by Harvey Weinstein that filled the news media a few weeks ago, I recently heard Sir Tom Jones on the radio admitting that something similar was attempted against him early in his career. There have been many scandals involving sexual harassment and abuse (including child abuse) in recent years; among the most notorious sexual predators here in the UK were Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith, not to mention the widespread child sexual abuse in churches of various denominations. Now, numerous allegations ranging from unwanted touching to rape, are coming out of the woodwork against MPs and other public figures, Sadly, it seems that sexual harassment in all its guises is not at all unusual.

Abuse of power

What all these situations have in common is that the perpetrator is a highly respected person in a powerful position, who abuses that power for their personal gratification, and - most disturbingly - people around them look the other way. Eventually the victims start to speak out, and the extent of the abuse becomes public. Everybody is shocked, there are calls for such intolerable conduct to be stamped out, then the furore dies down until a few years later somebody else hits the headlines, whether from the world of politics, or the media, or the church, or indeed the business community. It keeps happening.

Definition of sexual harassment

So what exactly are we talking about? Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct which violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. It is a type of bullying. Sexual harassment is based on the person’s sex. The term covers a range of activities of varying degrees of seriousness, from the relatively minor (“banter”, lewd jokes, sexual innuendo) through to the threatening (unwelcome sexual advances, pestering for sexual favours, promises of career advancement in return for sexual favours, threats to a person’s continued employment if they refuse sexual activity) to physical sexual assault and rape. It may be an isolated incident or a pattern of persistent behaviour, it may be obvious or subtle, face-to-face or indirect. Although often associated with male bosses trying their luck with female members of staff, it can be perpetrated by people of any gender towards others of any gender - as the revelations by Sir Tom Jones show.

Case Study

I used to say I'd never experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, but thinking back, there was one incident that fits the definition, that I am now going to share.

When I was in my twenties at the start of my career, I had an experience which could have ended very badly. I got on very well with my manager and he valued me and was helping me develop my HR career. Sometimes when he needed to discuss particularly confidential matters he would take me round the corner to a cafe for a cup of tea, or a bite of lunch. One day he said he had a very sensitive and important project to tell me about, and suggested going out for dinner. He would pick me up at my house and drive me to the restaurant. I saw no reason not to agree; we'd driven to meetings together many times before, and I'd never felt unsafe. We had a very nice meal accompanied by a glass or two of wine, and the project sounded very challenging; I was keen to get my teeth into it. At the end of the evening he drove me back home, but stopped short of the turning into my road and suggested going elsewhere for "a cuddle" first. I was shocked, and said: "I'd just like to go home, please" and thankfully he did take me home. It was never mentioned again and didn't affect my work. But I now realise I had put myself in a very vulnerable position, and somebody with fewer scruples could certainly have taken advantage of my naivety, or taken umbrage at my refusal and made my life difficult at work. I was very lucky that neither of those outcomes came to pass. Many others have been less fortunate.

Effects on the victim

Sometimes people who carry out low-level sexual harassment (“banter”, jokes, suggestive comments etc.) claim they are just “having a laugh” and mean no harm. Nevertheless it is clear from the definition of harassment that it is the effect on the victim, not the perpetrator’s intention, that matters. And for victims it’s no laughing matter.

The effects on the victims of sexual harassment can range from discomfort and embarrassment, to anxiety, stress, insomnia, sickness absence, fear of going to work, feeling forced to resign - even mental illness. People subjected to sexual harassment can feel intimidated and helpless, particularly if the perpetrator is in a more senior position within the organisation. Often, people in authority convince their victims there is no point complaining because nobody will believe them or do anything to help them anyway, or they resort to financial settlements to silence their victims to preserve their reputations - as Harvey Weinstein apparently did.

Clearly the productivity and effectiveness (and perhaps attendance record) of somebody suffering in this way will be impaired, so even if there were no moral imperative to act, there would be a commercial reason to do so. Furthermore, employers are under a duty of care towards their employees, and under Health and Safety legislation they are obliged to safeguard the well-being of their staff, which includes their mental as well as physical welfare. So if such behaviour is discovered within an organization, what should the employer do?

Create an open and respectful culture

The objective must be to create a culture in which there is a clear expectation that people will treat others with dignity and respect. The building blocks of this will include:

  • a commitment to respectful behaviour from the very top of the organisation
  • a clear policy statement that the company takes a “zero tolerance” approach to harassment of any kind
  • senior managers who have been trained in the principles of the policy, and who lead by example
  • well-publicised grievance procedures which enable complaints to be taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, and treated with sensitivity and confidentiality
  • an atmosphere of openness in which people are encouraged to express themselves, and issues are tackled head on rather than “swept under the carpet”
  • a willingness to take meaningful action against the perpetrators, including dismissal where warranted – however senior and “valuable” to the business they may be.

Some powerful people, like Harvey Weinstein, abuse their power to promote or scupper the career prospects of others, by subjecting others to sexual harassment or abuse. They get away with it because people around them, fearing for their own livelihoods, don't have the courage to speak out against them, or if they do, they are not listened to. And it seems the more these people get away with, the more they come to believe they are untouchable, and the worse their behaviour becomes. These issues must be nipped in the bud before they escalate from the relatively trivial to the monstrous and damaging. We should not feel comfortable in a world where abusive behaviour is not unusual. 

Views: 5

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Networking in Surrey to add comments!

Join Networking in Surrey

This Month's Sponsors (Links)

These NiS MEMBERS help us keep NiS free for you! Click the ads for info and offers...

Meet David Reavely on NiS...

With a diploma in nutritional medicine, PE teacher turned Food Detective’ Dave Reavely detects food intolerances and identifies how your diet and lifestyle affect your health, weight and fitness - and what to do about it! Click for details

Meet John Gower on NiS...

Local Networking Works! Start boosting your business TODAY... Please click the ad for details

Meet Julia Britten on NiS

Powered by WordPress, our simple drag and drop software makes it easier than ever to create your business website - 14 day free trial and then only £15 + VAT per month

Meet Stephen Morgan now on NiS...

Athena HR Consulting makes life easier for small businesses in providing expert, tactical and on the spot advice to clients on Employment Law and Generalist HR issues as and when they arise in a professional and friendly manner

Meet Tricia Woolfrey on NiS...

Tricia Woolfrey is a coach, trainer, consultant, wellness practitioner, author & former Global HR Director... Click this ad now to find out how Tricia can help you grow your business!

Meet Keith Grover on NiS..

MyTeam Network takes all your networking to the next level by addressing the space between meetings - it's 'joined-up networking for grown-up people'!

Become a Sponsor and promote your business by taking an ad  - seen by over 2,000 Members, 1,500 unique visitors  with 6,000+ pageviews every month...

"Thanks for getting Google on my side! It's  so nice when you can see a return on your investment."
Emma Selby Farnham Hub

Sean Usher Interviews Keith Grover Part 1 &2...

WATCH A VIDEO of Keith telling Sean Usher all about NiS

$10,000 value World Tour 2016 ticket to ride... get on board now!

© 2017   Created by Admin.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service