• The City of London and Sexual Harassment

    Last week in the Guardian it reported that “sexual harassment and misogyny are allowed to go unchecked at City firms because women have a “fear factor” over speaking out and do not trust human resource departments, MPs have been warned.”

    The article referred to a fresh inquiry launched into sexual harassment in the City, following a spate of allegations which have caused concern. It aims to see what, if any, progress has been made since the last inquiry in 2018.

    Helen Morrisey who was providing evidence the Chair of the Diversity called for an independent review of how firms deal with complaints of sexual harassment and misogyny.

    She said of those women who had come forward to provide evidence that “the really striking thing from all 20 of the testimonies that have come forward is the fear factor – and it has really taken my breath away, if I’m honest, because there is such nervousness about confidence being broken…There’s also testimony that in each time where women have escalated what has happened to them, it has made their working lives worse.”

    In our experience this is sadly often the case. Raising a grievance about sexual harassment is often a kamikaze exercise which women view as their exit not only of their current job, but of working in that field at all. They know it is a small world and that it they may be viewed as “difficult” having made a complaint, it should not be like this. Often, the complainant exits, and the organisation stays otherwise exactly was. Nothing is learned and no progress is made.

    Lady Morrissey continued “Women see that they report something, and the firm ‘investigates’ but closes ranks and gets behind the more senior person … and that person might be let go but they’re kept in the system.

    This is our experience, time and again.

    What is sexual harassment?

    The ACAS website describes it as:

    Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. The law (Equality Act 2010) protects the following people against sexual harassment at work:

    • employees and workers
    • contractors and self-employed people hired to personally do the work
    • job applicants

    To be sexual harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either:

    • violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not
    • created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them, whether it was intended or not

    Employers must do all they reasonably can to protect staff from sexual harassment and take steps to prevent it happening.

    The law is there and it is clear. This is not a problem of the protection being weak, it is the enforcement and implementation that is the issue.

    An independent review has been called for to look deeper into this issue and the FCA and City Regulator has also been called upon to help tackle this persistent issue.

    In our view all agencies, all employers and all workers might unite against this deeply embedded form of daily violence against women.

    The UN’s report “Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces” reported that London has one of the highest rates of sexual harassment, at 77% of all women.

    Both in and out work more must be done to protect women so they are free to contribute, thrive and reach their full potential.

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