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Tell us about your experiences of workplace sexual harassment

Graphic with a purple background and white left-aligned quoted text which reads "Victim-survivors of harassment are frequently labelled as ‘problem-makers’ if they report their experiences, with the onus and emotional labour placed on women to engage with reporting and investigating systems that frequently do not suit their needs or deliver justice." The quote is attributed to Mariah Kelly, Policy Officer at Engender. In the top right hand corner of the graphic is the Engender logo, a circle with an equals symbol in the centre, in white.Over the past year, Engender have been thinking about what needs to change to eradicate sexual harassment at work. Now we are asking women in Scotland to tell us about their experiences of sexual and sexist harassment in the workplace.

We outlined our approach to this project in a blog post in April 2021, which has included convening an Expert Working Group to generate policy recommendations aimed at preventing and better responding to harassment; commissioning a literature review on anonymous reporting of sexual harassment; and engaging with women with lived experience of harassment.

Women’s experiences of sexual harassment in Scotland

Harassment tends to be normalised in the workplace and beyond, meaning that many women doubt that their experiences are serious enough to report, or that they happened at all. Behaviours constituting harassment tend to be minimised, with the suggestion being that women have invited it in some way or that it is harmless ‘banter’. Of course, this is never the case.

In the lived experience focus groups that we’ve held so far, women have told us that the risks to their careers and wellbeing from reporting harassment tend to far outweigh any potential benefits of doing so. Victim-survivors of harassment are frequently labelled as ‘problem-makers’ if they report their experiences, with the onus and emotional labour placed on women to engage with reporting and investigating systems that frequently do not suit their needs or deliver justice.

Sexual harassment is broadly defined as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, that makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded. Sexist harassment refers to unwanted conduct related to a person’s sex. There are also some forms of sexual harassment that are criminal offences. These include unwanted touching, sexual assault and serious sexual assault or rape.

Sexual and sexist harassment can include:

  • Indecent or suggestive remarks
  • Questions, jokes, or suggestions about a colleague’s sex life
  • Sexist comments about women
  • The display of pornography in the workplace
  • The circulation of pornography (for example by email)
  • Unwelcome and inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing
  • Requests or demands for sexual favours
  • Any unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment.

What do we want to know?

We know that sexual and sexist harassment are endemic within workplaces: research from the Trade Union Congress found that more than half of women in the UK, and nearly two-thirds of women aged 18-24 years old, reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. Harassment appears to be particularly prevalent, and the barriers to justice especially high, for women in precarious work or on zero-hours contracts, women of colour, disabled women and LGBTQ+ people.

Our survey on women’s experiences of workplace sexual harassment in Scotland is seeking to find out more information about harassment in Scotland’s workplaces; how employers might overcome the barriers to justice that we see; and how harassment can be prevented. We are also hoping to find out women’s ideas for change.

Who do we want to hear from?

The survey is open to all women in Scotland, particularly those who have experienced or witnessed the behaviours outlined above or who would identify as having experienced harassment. We also particularly invite women of colour and LGBTQ+ women to respond, as these groups are currently underrepresented in our research. We know that sexual and sexist harassment intersects with other forms of discrimination, and we want to be able to capture how this manifests at work and consider how employers can better respond to this.

Your responses will be kept completely anonymous and there is no way that your workplace, or anybody you mention in your answers, can be identified in this survey. If you agree to allow us to quote your answers anonymously in a future publication on sexual harassment, this will always be anonymous and we would never publish anything that could identify you.

The survey will inform the policy recommendations that we make about how harassment, and sexism and discrimination in the workplace more broadly, can be better prevented, responded to, and eradicated.

You can take the survey online here, and please share with anyone who is interested in sharing their thoughts with us.

We are grateful to Close the Gap and the Trade Union Congress for allowing us to replicate some of their survey questions in our survey.

Accessing support

If you feel upset or affected after taking this survey or you are looking for support about sexual harassment or any other form of sexual violence, you can contact the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline on 08088 01 03 02 or find out more information at rapecrisisscotland.org.uk.

Scottish Women's Rights Centre also provide free legal information, advice and representation to women affected by sexual harassment, violence and abuse. You can contact their helpline on 08088 010 789 or visit scottishwomensrightscentre.org.uk.

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