Rising to the challenge of eliminating sexual harassment

Mike Clancy · 2 June 2020

When the #MeToo movement came to prominence in 2017, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we immediately saw its relevance to our members in the creative industries.

As it spread through Westminster, the charity sector, and into science and technology, it quickly became clear that sexual harassment is a whole-union issue, and it’s a big one.

A majority of women (and a significant minority of men) in the UK have been sexually harassed at work. It’s worse in some settings, such as male-dominated occupations, hierarchical organisations, or where there are blurred boundaries between work and leisure.

And it’s worse for some demographic groups, such as young workers, LGBT workers, or minority ethnic groups. There are huge consequences for individuals, of course, but also for their employers.

Sexual harassment is not a niche interest – it’s a core trade union issue.

Our response to the #MeToo movement was to create a set of resources that go beyond simply enumerating the problems and start offering solutions. This week, we publish the second edition of the guide, updated with the insights gained from two years’ of deployment and education in our members’ workplaces.

Our informed and practical approach has earned us invitations to discuss the issue with employers and industry bodies who share our goal to eliminate sexual harassment. We have pushed them hard: to reflect candidly, to challenge their own thinking, and to hear some uncomfortable truths.

We too – all trade unions – have cause for reflection.

We share many workplace characteristics with the industries we represent, that constitute risks for sexual harassment.

We know that sexual harassment is both endemic and vastly underreported, so we cannot afford to be complacent based on the absence of disclosures. Nor can we count on our ‘higher purpose’ to protect us: we’ve learned that from the fallout of the Oxfam and Save The Children scandals.

We must, therefore, set ourselves the same challenge that we put to the employers we work with: create a respectful workplace culture that suppresses all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination; a culture where every member feels confident to challenge behaviours that make them feel uncomfortable, and every member knows that they will be supported right to the top of the union.

Culture is a collective attribute. It must be powered by the grass roots of our movement: you, our members, and reps. It will be up to you to identify and challenge behaviours that undermine our shared values of respect and inclusion.

And I give you my personal commitment that you will not stand alone when you do. Culture is powered by the grass roots, but it’s steered by the tone and the expectations of leadership.

So let me make this unmistakably clear: we do not tolerate sexual harassment. There is no place in Prospect for sexism of any kind. There is no place for bullying, harassment or discrimination.

I expect every one of you – members, reps and staff – to help make our union workspaces exemplars of dignity and respect. And you should expect nothing less from me and your union in return.

Mike Clancy is Prospect’s General Secretary

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