Online platforms are now being used to target women, new research produced by the Fawcett Society reveals, with almost half of women (45 per cent) experiencing harassment online through unsolicited messages and calls.
For some women, this problem has worsened since shifting to remote working due to the impact of the pandemic.
Around a quarter of women who had faced sexual harassment reported this had increased or escalated since the beginning of the pandemic whilst working at home.
Although two in five women (40 per cent) generally were found to experience sexual harassment during the course of their career, this number was significantly higher for minority groups.
Over two-thirds of disabled women (68 per cent) said they had been sexually harassed while at work compared to just over half of women in general (52 per cent).
Similarly, employees from ethnic minority backgrounds were also marginally more likely to report being sexually harassed in the workplace (32 per cent) compared to their white counterparts (28 per cent) over the last year.
Another vulnerable group included LGBT staff of which 68 per cent also indicated they had experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Describing this situation as “endemic”, Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, warned that this was largely due to a work “culture where the focus is on managing liability rather than stopping perpetrators and supporting women”. She continued:
The current approach puts women in an unacceptably vulnerable position.
It’s time for change – as the government has agreed – employers need to take their responsibilities seriously and create safe working environments.
They need to take a look at their workplace culture and put in place the effective strategies to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace once and for all.
In particular, the report criticised the heavy reliance that employers have on staff reporting their experiences of sexual harassment which they described as “incredibly sensitive and traumatic”.
Instead, it recommends focussing on company culture within workplaces to eradicate everyday behaviour which violates the dignity of women.
As such, the report lays out key recommendations including:
- Taking all forms of sexual harassment seriously
- Treating employees who make a report with respect and empathy
- Increasing gender equality within the organisation, particularly at senior levels
- Demonstrating leadership commitment to tackling harassment
- Conducting a climate survey to measure organisational attitudes towards sexual harassment
- Providing guidance and support to managers dealing with reports of sexual harassment
Furthermore, it also encourages employers to implement a clear and detailed sexual harassment policy which is separate to a general harassment and bullying policy.
Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director, Close the Gap, stated:
Sexual harassment is endemic in our workplaces, but it’s so normalised that it’s routinely minimised or dismissed by employers. The findings show that an increasing number of women are sexually harassed while working from home, as perpetrators abuse remote working technology to target women during Covid-19.
Sexual harassment affects women’s jobs and their careers, making them feel unsafe at work and negatively impacting their mental health. It also contributes to the persistent gender pay gap. Employers need to demonstrate leadership by taking action that will prevent sexual harassment, tackle sexist workplace cultures, and advance gender equality at work.
*This research has been outlined in the Fawcett Society’s report “Tackling sexual harassment in the workplace: Report on employer actions to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment”. The research was also made in partnership with Chwarae Teg, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Close the Gap and supported by TIME’S UP UK and Rosa.