Voice of the Employee

More than half of women say they have been sexually harassed at work and most admit to not reporting it, new research by the TUC suggests.

A survey of 1,500 women saw 52% cite the problem and also found a third had been subjected to unwelcome jokes and a quarter experienced unwanted touching.

TUC head Frances O’Grady said it left women feeling ashamed and frightened.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It makes us miserable at work where we just want to do our job and be respected.” She also called it a “scandal” that so few women felt their bosses were dealing with the issue properly.

Sexual harassment at work can take many forms, from inappropriate comments and jokes about a colleague’s sex life to unwanted touching, hugging or kissing and even demands for sexual favours, the TUC said.

In nine out of 10 cases the perpetrator was male and nearly one in five women (17%) said it was their line manager, or someone with direct authority over them.

Most (79%) of the women who said they were victims of sexual harassment did not tell their employer.

Reasons given included fear that reporting would affect their relationships at work (28%) or their career prospects (15%).

Nearly a quarter (24%) of those who did not report abuse said it was because they felt that they would not be believed or taken seriously and 20% said they were too embarrassed.

The proportion of women facing harassment is higher among the youngest workers – nearly two-thirds (63%) of the 138 women aged between 18 and 24 surveyed said they had been sexually harassed at work.

Young women are often on casual contracts, such as temporary agency or zero-hours contracts. They are also likely to be in more junior roles, all of which may be factors in sexual harassment, says the TUC.

The TUC survey also found:

  • More than one in four (28%) were the subject of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work
  • A fifth (20%) suffered unwanted verbal sexual advances at work
  • And around one in eight (12%) experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work

One young woman told the TUC anonymously that in her previous job she worked in an almost exclusively male salesroom.

“Sexual comments about me or others, either to me or overheard in my presence, were a fact of daily working life. Some of those comments were violent in nature,” she said.

Another woman told the TUC: “One colleague would constantly try to humiliate me in front of 10 to 16 people at a time. Because he was older and a dad, the younger guys looked up to him.”

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project which helped with the report, said many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment was a thing of the past.

“In reality it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.”

Men have also been victims of sexual harassment at work, with Jamie telling the BBC: “I am a middle-aged man who was recently working in a front-line managerial position.

“I was at times subjected to unwelcome comments of a sexual nature from a younger female in a more junior position, despite making it clear that her comments made me uncomfortable.”

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