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Porn, sex toys, groping and tears... all in a days work?

  • August 12, 2016
As I headed to deliver one of our Equality & Diversity sessions yesterday, I, as I always do, checked the news for any recent case studies to reference in the training session. Usually our E&D sessions focus on all 9 of the protected characteristics but this client had asked for a specific focus on sex (gender) to ensure female employees were treated respectfully.

Seeing that 50% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work was a disturbing read, ranging from passing comments, physical (uninvited) contact, sexual discussions, pornographic content and material being left out and in the most extreme cases sex toys.

Discussing it on the session, some of the female employees stated that they had in the past experienced the 'banter' and that at times it has caused them distress - many were concerned at the (often perceived but inevitably real in some cases) impact it would have on their employment if they did make a complaint. Would they be seen as weak, trouble makers, causing problems? Would it impact their career in the business and in the words of one "was it worth the hassle it would cause?" Women said they often have to "be one of the lads" but is this through choice or necessity and for survival? Sadly I think it was the latter.

Comments posted on the BBC news website from women affected by this include: -

'The company did nothing'

'I didn't tell anyone because I was so embarrassed'

'I left in tears and signed off sick'

How in 2016 can it be acceptable to leave a sex toy on a colleagues desk and why should it be considered just banter? What tends to happen is that this behaviour has become common place and therefore perceived to be acceptable. If we don't stop it, it spreads like a cancer to be "that's just part of the culture"

Another client recently told us that he told male staff to take down a (very dated) page 3 calendar as it was likely to cause offence. The argument back "but we have always had it up, and no woman has ever complained" When the manager reminded them no woman had ever worked in that department (!) but that two females were joining the department soon and it wasn't the environment or culture they wanted them to come into. Clearly the perception that this was acceptable was because for years it had gone unchallenged.

<>Today, BBC Radio 2 had a discussion around this subject matter with two females being interviewed about this matter, with differing view points. One of them claimed that this type of stuff doesn't happen anymore to this degree, that women need to stand up for themselves and that no male would touch her uninvited. Vanessa Feltz pointed out that both women were confident, forthright in character and might be better placed to manage this but what about the new junior, young female, being touched by an older, more senior male colleague? Are they really going to be confident enough to say "Don't touch me?"

As Managers in business, we ALL have a responsibility to ensure that no employee, whether because of their gender or indeed sexual orientation or race is subjected to this level of prejudiced or unwarranted harassment in the workplace. I can't pretend for one moment to understand a) how women feel to be (regularly in some cases) on the receiving end of discrimination and b) what it is like to be on the receiving end of sexual harassment but I do know it makes me feel extremely angry, frustrated, disappointed and committed to delivering our engaging programme of Inclusion training that challenges these behaviours and gets ALL employees to consider the impact that their behaviour and comments has on others.

That's why, delivering Values led Inclusion training that enables all employees to understand the impact "office banter" and the more overt comments can have on people, by seeing it performed by our actors and then discussing how it felt, is one way of tacking this potentially 'dry' (learners words, not mine!) subject matter.

When we discuss gender equality on our course, specifically around recruitment and ensuring women have equal opportunity to senior roles, often (and sadly 99.99% of the time these comments are made by men) we get told "It should just be about who the best candidate is not what sex they are"

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world, if only that were the case.....
Justin Smith-Essex

About the Author:
Justin Smith-Essex

Justin is the Group Managing Director & one of the co-founders of Ted Learning. He is a very experienced trainer, facilitator and qualified teacher, having completed his PGCE Teaching Degree at the University of Greenwich. He specialises in designing and delivering training in customer service, equality and diversity, management fundamentals, team building & presentation skills.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/justinted