Revelations over the scale of sexual harassment at Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market, has prompted calls for employers to prioritise staff safety and clamp down on harassment in their own organisations.
Lloyd’s revealed today that 8 per cent of its workforce – some 480 people – reported having either seen or suffered sexual harassment at work in the past 12 months; a statistic the firm’s boss described as “truly terrible”.
In the survey of more than 6,000 employees, conducted for the company by the Banking Standards Board, less than half (45 per cent) of respondents said they would feel comfortable raising a concern about harassment or bullying in the workplace, while 22 per cent said they had seen other people in the organisation turn a bind eye.
The poll was commissioned by Lloyd’s to uncover the scale of cultural problems within the organisation after allegations that harassment was rife within the firm surfaced earlier this year.
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In response, Lloyd’s has set out a number of measures to tackle the problems within its organisation including a gender balance plan, a new set of business conduct standards and a promotional campaign to encourage staff to speak up about bullying and harassment.
Hephzi Pemberton, founder of Equality Group, said while the findings were “greatly concerning”, she hoped it would prompt other instititions to look at themselves with a view to eliminating sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour at work.
“While the situation has almost certainly improved, there are still a number of steps that workplaces need to take to improve their working culture,” she said.
Pemberton added that businesses should be striving to stamp out harassment and bullying by creating and implementing positive policies that build an inclusive, safe workplace for all.
“Bringing in diverse talent at senior levels, in terms of women and BAME professionals, to bring new ideas to boards and leadership teams across the country can undoubtedly change working cultures for the better,” she said.
Similarly, Nick Elwell-Sutton, employment partner at Clyde & Co, said Lloyd’s survey findings should “act as a wake-up call” to other organisations.
While Elwell-Sutton welcomed initiatives to encourage employees to speak up, he added: “Those raising concerns must feel they are believed, while employers must retain balance and beware of the pendulum swinging too far as claims must be tested against evidence.”
He also described the changes announced by Lloyd’s as “long overdue” and said the firm needed to be “more ambitious” in stamping out harassment and bullying. “It is clear there is only one direction of travel and that proven behaviour that may have been tolerated only a few years ago will now lead to serious sanctions,” he said.
Jonathan Richards, CEO and founder of Breathe, said company culture needed to be a constant priority. "Communication is key in tackling inequality – and if you're too big a company to dedicate the time to do so, you must make it a priority for managers and other senior management," he said.
Richards advised business leaders to use a mix of face-to-face catch-ups and anonymous surveys to foster a culture where workers are comfortable coming forward to discuss any issues.
John Neal, chief executive of Lloyd’s, described the survey findings as “extremely troubling”, adding: “I am determined that we create a working environment at Lloyd’s where everyone feels safe, valued and respected.
“Cultural change takes time, but we have to accelerate progress and the measures announced today are intended to do just that.”
Neal said he would work to eradicate the cultural problems at Lloyd’s within the next three to five years, adding that he would be “very disappointed if we didn’t make significant progress in the next 12 months”.