Shepwayvox was contacted by a person who had experienced serious sexual harassment and discrimination in their workplace. We decided to investigate and have collected personal testimonies from over 190 people working people across Shepway – in the last 3 months, all of whom had experienced and/or witnessed some form of sexual harassment or discrimination in their workplace.
“It is a daily reality and some days I dread going to work…”
A high percentage of testimonies describe incidents of an highly sexual and explicit nature One source says she’s been asked by male colleagues “for a quickie” in their offices, all of the men she says were married. She has experienced countless uninvited sexual advances from colleagues and customers alike. Two respondents working as waitresses describe aggressive incidents of harassment: one claims her breasts were “grabbed by older male customers” at the end of a waiting shift; another recalls being frequently harassed by older men who requested she ring them for sex and left their numbers. They even asked her how much she would charge.
The most frequent thing which run through the testimonials are examples of employees using positions of authority to perpetrate sexual crimes, chauvinism and sexism under the pretence of that old chestnut, “banter”. Nearly all respondents mention:
improper comments about clothes, hair, the way they smell, what they wear, these were made predominately by managers. One was tricked into having dinner with a senior manager from a very large local employer who informed her everyone on the staff was going out to a restaurant. On arrival, they realised it was only “them and her boss – no else was invited”.
Gender-based discrimination was also very common. Several respondents were discriminated against “for being a single mum” and subsequently “fired for being unreliable”. Another respondent says she has “two male colleagues that do the same job as me but exclude me from everything”. One of the most outrageous is the testimony of one woman who was told she “wouldn’t be a ideal candidate for management, but would be an excellent candidate for a “breeding programme” and was informed by managers they would like to sign up.
One female respondent who works in an office discovered her male colleagues have been masturbating while thinking about her, “using how they felt in the minutes afterwards to gauge how attractive I was”.
While they are the majority, it’s not only women who encounter discrimination. “Being the only male employee working on certain days,” says one male respondent, “I was asked to get my “lunchbox” out” and “15 minutes with you and then you’ll know you’ve had a real woman, which I found shocking and burdening”. Another tells of how he worked at a Nursery where all men were made to work in the back office because the female boss assumed they ”might cause mums to think they were paedophiles”
How are problems dealt with?
Too many respondents felt unable to report incidents because “nothing will change even if I do” and that “it’s systematic”, “a normal thing” or the employer is apathetic. One reported harassment from customers to her boss who advised her to refuse them service. However, her co-workers only advice was to stand up for herself. This got her branded as “emotional” and a “bitch”. Only one individual’s reporting led to the perpetrator being fired, another says her claims were denied by her harasser – and that not long after she was selected and made redundant.
What more can be done?
Things are changing but all respondents agree at a glacial speed. Groups such as Hollaback, Womens Support Project and Kent County Council’s website.
We would encourage all businesses and organizations across Shepway to sign a commitment dedicating them to tackling forms of harassment, abuse or discrimination in the workplace. For businesses to create an action plan which includes what the business can do to support staff who may be experiencing discrimination or violence. Plans must be tailored to the specific organization and its needs, and could include actions such as a bi-annual workplace questionnaire, an online auditing tool to report incidents anonymously, or having workplace unions that offer private consultations for discrimination, harassment and violence cases.
It is very clear to us there’s still a long way to go in create safe workplaces where individuals are treated with respect and claims of harassment and discrimination are dealt with appropriately.
Let’s hope that 2016 is the year Shepway achieves gender equality at work, in the street and in the home.