Employers must help employees speak up about sexual harrassment

Chloe Chambraud, Gender Equality Director at Business in the Community responds to Turning the Tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work, the Equality and Human Right's Commission's new recommendations to better protect people at work.
Sexual harassment at work is often endured in silence, but if we are to create workplaces which are fair and inclusive for everyone, it’s vital that employees feel that they can speak up. Many women – especially those in precarious working conditions - do not feel able to protest or report because they fear for their job security and career prospects, so improving legal protections will hopefully encourage more people to come forward.
However, simply having a sexual harassment policy in place and publishing it isn’t enough to encourage reporting. We know that 96% of organisations have bullying and harassment policies in place but four in five women do not report to the employers. Employers need to have a range of formal and informal reporting mechanisms in place and to nurture a supportive culture to ensure that all complaints are handled fairly and consistently.
Employers should also take other protected characteristics (such as ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation) into account – our Project 28-40 research found that whilst 12% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, this figure rose to 19% of bisexual women, 16% of women with disabilities and 15% of women from mixed or multiple ethnic backgrounds. Employers need to monitor sexual harassment claims by gender, ethnicity and other characteristics, as well as monitor employee assistance programme data. Conducting regular surveys of employees’ views on the effectiveness of their sexual harassment policies, and carrying out in-depth analysis of data that explores issues including levels of seniority, working patterns, types of bullying and harassment and tracking of data over time will also provide the building blocks to make real changes.
Read Turning the Tables: Ending Sexual Harassment at Work, on the Equality and Human Right's Commission's website.
Business in the Community gender equality members can access our Workplace Sexual Harassment Toolkit to find out more about the costs of sexual harassment to your workplace and how to prevent it.