Quarter of young women fear they would lose their job if they reported sexual harassment

Experts call on government to address ‘deplorable’ workplace cultures

A quarter (24 per cent) of young women would be reluctant to report sexual harassment at work for fear of losing their jobs, a report revealed today.

The Young Women’s Trust’s survey of 4,000 people aged between 18 and 30 also found 15 per cent of young women had been sexually harassed at work and not reported it – equating to 800,000 people across the UK. Just 8 per cent of women who experienced sexual harassment said they had reported the incident.

Along with fears about being left jobless, one in five (17 per cent) worried they would be offered fewer hours if they reported sexual harassment. 

“It can be particularly hard for women on low pay or in insecure work to report being harassed by senior colleagues or bosses, knowing their job may – wrongly – be on the line,” Dr Carole Easton, Young Women’s Trust chief executive, told People Management. “We’ve heard the stories of a huge number of women and now we need concrete action.” 

The report – It’s (still) A Rich Man’s World – also raised concerns about sexual harassment workplace policies, with a third (32 per cent) of young women saying they didn’t know how to report sexual harassment in their organisation. 

Sarah Chilton, partner at CM Murray, warned that, while instances of sexual harassment at work amounted to victimisation under the Equality Act, many organisations failed to make this clear through workplace policy and cultures. 

“Organisations need to really look at their harassment policies – if they don’t have one in place, that needs to change,” she told People Management. “They should look at how they operate in practice and whether their policies are accessible or not.

“It’s all very well having a law covering victimisation, but not every employee will know that law exists, and not every employer may act appropriately regarding potential victimisations.” 

The report also found a third (31 per cent) of young women had experienced sex discrimination at work or while looking for work, and almost half (43 per cent) had experienced maternity discrimination. 

“As well as putting good reporting policies and training in place, employers should also take preventative action,” Easton added. “Supporting more women into a male-dominated workplace, for example, can help change the culture. Everyone should be able to feel safe at work.”

A report into sexual harassment at work, released by the women and equalities committee in July, called on the government to impose new duties on employers to prevent harassment, and introduce a statutory code of practice that offered guidance on how to increase workplace safety.  

Meanwhile, in a speech made to the Fawcett Society this morning, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), called on the government to reinstate Section 40 of the Equalities Act 2010, in an effort to protect employees against harassment by third parties.

Under this part of the legislation, employers could be found liable for harassment by third parties on their property, provided the employer was aware of at least two previous incidents. However, it was scrapped by the coalition government in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

“It’s deplorable that some people in our society, most often women, are sexually harassed at work. This is not just a business problem,” she said. 

“In the past year we’ve heard about it from Hollywood to Westminster. When it’s exposed, most men in business are as angry as most women. We must stamp out sexual harassment in all places of work.”