Sexual misconduct and harassment in Westminster: How can workplaces prevent these issues?

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In recent news headlines we discovered that  56 MPs are facing allegations of sexual misconduct under the Government’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. Angela Rayner was subject to sexism in the workplace with the basic instinct’ story. And, that MP porn scandal was uncovered. This is all on top of the Beergate saga which has shaken trust in the Government amongst many of the UK public, who were staying home and staying safe while MPs were breaking lockdown rules. 

Knowing what we know about how organisations sweep problems under the rug, and how people can be afraid of speaking up, we worry this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is going on for people working in Westminster. It’s a serious concern for our country when the people setting the rules about behaviour in the workplace are constantly breaking them.  

Not many people and particularly not many women are going to be comfortable working in the current political environment, so, what can what’s been branded as ‘Pestminster’ do to ensure their employees are not at risk of facing sexual harassment in the workplace?

What’s certain is that culture in workplaces doesn’t change overnight. The recent headlines are a result of years of the systems and structures in place around the Government allowing for poor behaviour to take place and for power to be abused. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are steps all workplaces, including Parliament, can take to become a safe, happy and supportive environment for all its employees.  

Abena Oppong-Asare said the Labour Women’s Network she chairs provides “resilience training” so that women standing for public office are “prepared for the unfortunate fact they will face misogyny and sexism”. This approach fails female employees. It shouldn’t fall on external organisations to provide training on these issues, which puts the onus on females experiencing harassment. The focus needs to shift to overturning structures of sexism in politics by increasing equality and inclusion, and to preventing harassment by educating everyone about unacceptable behaviour. 

It’s not only in Westminster where this behaviour is taking place. According to the Sexual Harassment Survey by the Government Equalities Office, a staggering 84% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime as of 2020. This is a statistic that has to change, especially when by law, employers must do everything they reasonably can to protect staff from sexual harassment. 

We attended a webinar by the Fawcett Society on“Creating a safe workplace to prevent sexual harassment which noted that male allies play an integral part in this change. We also attended the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Conference at the NEC that had a great seminar by Paula S Rome from Julian Taylor Solicitors on how to manage sexual misconduct and harassment claims in the workplace. Paula also believed that male allies can help set a good example of how to empathise with and support female colleagues who are victim-survivors of sexual harassment. 

We are having conversations continually about male allyship and how It’s time for men to fight alongside women to stamp out sexism, misogyny, harassment and violence towards them. It’s no longer acceptable to continue to be perpetrators of this behaviour – everyone in the workplace needs to work together to put a stop to sexual harassment. 

Harassment can occur in any setting, not just the workplace. But if it does occur in the workplace then the employer can be liable unless they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment. Westminster is the same as any workplace, and needs to start being treated as such. 

With the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) using its enforcement powers to come down on employers who are failing to protect people from harassment, it’s more important than ever to take a preventative approach. 

The EHRC are tying organisations in to legal agreements that require those organisations to take all “reasonable steps” to prevent harassment and include recommendations such as:

  • Appointing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion champions across the organisation.
  • Completing risk assessments in relation to sexual harassment and putting mitigations in place to manage identified risks.
  • Advising employees on how to deal with harassment through internal communications.
  • Provide enhanced training on equality law and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for all employees.
  • Providing regular progress reports to the regulator.

Their official seven step approach to preventing harassment says companies must:

These steps are clear and the good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Culture Shift are here to support you, so if you want to make your workplace safer, happier and more inclusive for everyone, get in touch today.

How can we help you?

Reach out to our dedicated team who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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