Sexual harassment is rife at work

UNISON women’s conference hears testimony of an issue which hasn’t gone away but got worse as women experience harassment in workplaces up and down the country

Delegates took to the platform at UNISON’s women’s conference to share their experiences of sexual harassment and demand action to combat it.  

According to figures published by the TUC, 52% of all women and nearly two thirds of women between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The TUC study, Still just a bit of banter?, which was carried out in with the Everyday Sexism Project, also found that: 

  • nearly one in three women have been the subject of unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature at work; 
  • more than one in four women have been the subject of comments of a sexual nature about their body or clothes at work;
  • nearly a quarter of women have experienced unwanted touching;
  • a fifth of women have experienced unwanted verbal sexual advances at work;
  • around one in eight women have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them at work.

Louise McDermott from the Eastern region told delegates that she thought we had regressed when it came to sexual harassment in the workplace,

“When I was younger,” she recalled, “I felt it was ok to call men out for some behaviour, these days they say you can’t take a joke, or you get called a ‘feminazi’.” 

Delegates heard shocking stories of sexual harassment of all forms; from inappropriate comments to rape.

Karen Pearson from Hartlepool inspired the room by telling them that after a colleague’s particularly vile sexual harassment experience.

She went back to her branch and asked them to support a stand-alone sexual harassment policy.

The branch agreed and, with support from a progressive senior manager, the policy is now with the local council’s legal team.

“I am absolutely sickened to the stomach every time that I have to go in to a sexual harassment case,” she told conference. “I’m sick of these male managers telling me ‘it’s a bit of banter, pet’.

“It’s not happening on my watch.”