Allegations of sexual assault and rape against Harvey Weinstein have made headlines around the world, and the story has brought the issue of sexual harassment of women at work to the fore. THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN ALLEGATIONS: A CATALYST FOR TACKLING SEXUAL HARASSMENT

The disgraced Hollywood producer was fired from his own company after a number of women who worked with Weinstein accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Further allegations of rape have emerged in recent days.

The Weinstein Company is on the edge of destruction, contemplating a name change because its legacy is tarnished by Weinstein’s alleged actions. Weinstein himself is probably finished in the industry, although it wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually tries to come back from the scandal after a period of ‘rehabilitation.’

Here in the UK, a recent poll for the TUC found that more than half (52%) of the women polled said they’d been sexually harassed at some point in their career. And nearly 80% of the women polled said they did not report the incident to their employer. The most common reason given for not reporting was the fear of this having a negative impact on relationships at work.

A Personal Experience Of Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

These statistics don’t surprise me. In my first ever management role, I endured sexual harassment by my line manager for more than a year. Based at a centre remote from the company’s Head Office, I used to dread every visit he made. Often he turned up unannounced. One time I found him wandering around the flat I used to ‘sleep in’ when I was on call. At 6.30 in the morning, he had no business being there.

I’d been told previous complaints against him had gone nowhere as he had support at the highest levels of the organisation. This made me reluctant to complain. But after I found him in my ‘sleep in’ flat, I reported the incident to his line manager; a woman. I thought she’d be shocked and understand. Instead she turned the issue on me, and told me that his frequent and irregular visits were my fault.

The situation got a whole lot worse before I plucked up the courage to speak out again. Eventually I took a claim of sex discrimination against him. My complaints were upheld and I won my case. But the process took its toll and came at a price. Which is why I’m not surprised Weinstein was able to get away with bullying, harassment and discrimination for so long.

Reasons Why Sexual Harassment Is Not Reported

There are a number of reasons why women (and men) don’t come forward to report sexual harassment, including:

  • Confusion.  What just happened? Did the incident really happen? Was it real? These are the questions that go through victims minds.
  • Fear. Your career could be irrevocably damaged, as mine was, by speaking out. If you speak out, you risk being labelled a trouble maker.
  • Loneliness. Until you tell somebody, you’re the only person who knows about the behaviour. The onus is on you to report it. If your complaints aren’t taken seriously, as mine weren’t, this puts you in a particularly lonely spot.
  • Powerlessness.  In the face of somebody who’s respected within the company, especially if they’re the CEO, you’re fearful that making a complaint could break your career. You think it’s a ‘He said, She said’ type situation which it is as there aren’t any witnesses.

This - and the myths surrounding sexual harassment - create a culture of silence with nobody saying anything. Until that is, a number of women come forward to make complaints, as has happened in the Weinstein’s case.

How To Prevent Sexual Harassment

A toxic culture has allowed powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and Donald Trump to behave with impunity. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of men operate like this on a daily basis. In the olden days, we’d have referred to this behaviour as ‘pestering.’ Is he pestering you’ was the question you’d have been asked. And the perpetrator would have been taken aside for a quiet conversation.

Today we have legislation to protect us. Thankfully here in the UK, the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment at work is pretty clearly set out in the Equality Act. If the conduct is sexual in nature and a person feels the behaviour has violated their dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, they have the basis for a claim.

But legislation is no substitute for a bedrock of firm organisational values which set the tone for your company culture, and guide the way in which decisions are made in the workplace. Here are five steps every employer should take to help prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  1. Create A Diverse Workplace. Ensure that women are represented at all levels of the company, including at board level.
  2. Walk the Walk. Make it clear to employees that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Provide different options for employees to make a complaint, in case they don’t feel comfortable going to a direct supervisor.
  3. Establish an Anti-Harassment Policy. Every employer needs a strict anti-harassment policy. When you write it, include information about discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment. You may also want to include a policy about consensual romantic relationships between co-workers.
  4. Train Employees. Set up a training program to educate employees about what is and is not acceptable at your company, and what employees should do in different situations. Train supervisors and managers on how to recognise and eliminate sexual harassment, and about how they can protect employees from it.
  5. Be Aware of Same-Sex Harassment. While same-sex harassment has often been overlooked in the past, there’s been a spike in same-sex harassment claims. Remember that both men and women may be the instigator or the victim.

Let’s hope the conversation that’s started following the revelations of the extent of Weinstein’s abusive behaviour will lead to a sea change attitudes and workplace culture.

Join The Conversation

Question: Have you had an experience of sexual harassment in the workplace? Did you meet with a culture of silence? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.

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