BLOG: Why we can no longer ignore the workplace sexual harassment epidemic
Guest Blog by Charlotte Archibald, Communications & Campaigns Manager, Welsh Women’s Aid
Wales is in the midst of a workplace sexual harassment epidemic. Four out of five women in Wales have been sexually harassed at work, and these experiences are greatly increased amongst minoritised women.
We have heard from survivors that the issue is minimised or overlooked, and excuses are made to justify inappropriate behaviour at work. This enables the constant cycle of sexual harassment to continue.
In order to break this cycle, our society needs to acknowledge just how pervasive an issue this is in workplaces in Wales and wake-up to the devasting impact it has on survivors.
Earlier this year, Welsh Women’s Aid launched its biggest campaign to-date to tackle workplace sexual harassment and support women experiencing harassment and abuse at work. The ‘No Grey Area’ campaign was launched with a video that explored toxic workplace environments and how harassers know just how far to push the boundaries of ‘propriety’ without having to face any repercussions. The video was followed by a major report into the impact of sexual harassment that showed over 80% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work and that the majority of women experience sexual harassment at work on a regular basis.
The report also enabled us to challenge many of the long-held myths around sexual harassment. The fact that the majority of women who responded had experienced multiple cases of sexual harassment from more than one person, shows us that this isn’t carried out by a few ‘bad apples’ and that there are a significant number of harassers in workplaces throughout Wales.
As shocking as these statistics are, it is the impact of these experiences that highlights the true cost of workplace sexual harassment. Throughout the campaign we heard from women who have lost their jobs for speaking out against sexual harassment, women who felt their mental health and wellbeing was pushed to the brink by sexual harassment at work, those who felt they had no choice but to leave their job because of the harassment they experienced, and those that felt trapped in a cycle of harassment and abuse because they couldn’t afford to leave their job.
This isn’t just ‘banter’. It is the actualisation of a power imbalance that employers, the Government and our society at large has ignored for far too long.
Further analysis of our research indicated that the experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic women, of disabled women and of LGBTQ+ women showed even more disparity and harassment.
During Pride Month this year, we published data from the report that shows 97% of LGBTQ+ women in Wales have experienced workplace sexual harassment, compared to 77% of heterosexual women.
The findings also show that 81% of LGBTQ+ women experienced sexual harassment at work on more than one occasion, compared to 67% of heterosexual women.
It is vital that in our efforts to tackle sexual harassment, we understand how this abuse intersects with other forms of discrimination in the workplace. Our findings to-date clearly show that sexual harassment is having a hugely detrimental impact on the job security and career opportunities of LGBTQ+ women, of Black and Minority Ethnic women and disabled women in Wales.
Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment. Employers need to ensure that their workplaces are safe and inclusive spaces and that survivors feel believed and supported if they disclose sexual harassment.
Anyone in Wales who is experiencing sexual harassment, domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women or is concerned about someone else can contact the 24-hour Live Fear Free Helpline (phone: 0808 80 10 800, webchat: www.livefearfree.wales, text: 078600 77 333, email: email@example.com) for confidential help and support.