Workplace sexism survey shows ‘disturbing’ gap in male and female perception
Young Women’s Trust survey finds almost half of female HR directors think their workplaces are sexist compared with a quarter of men.
Almost half of female HR directors and decision-makers think their workplaces are sexist, compared with only a quarter of men in the same position, according to research from the Young Women’s Trust.
The survey also found one in eight large employers admit sexual harassment in their companies goes unreported, while one in 10 were aware of formal sexual harassment complaints, according to a YouGov survey of 800 HR decision-makers about women’s experiences at work.
A significant majority (63%) of HR directors and decision-makers thought sexism still existed in most workplaces, increasing to 76% among female employers, said the charity that supports young women on low or no pay.
“Too many young women are facing sexism and sexual harassment while trying to carry out their jobs. It is shocking how many employers are aware of this in their own workplace – yet the problem continues,” said Dr Carole Easton, the chief executive of Young Women’s Trust.
The figures are likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, warned the charity. Last year, research from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. Among young women aged 16-24 the proportion was 63%.
The research showed a disturbing gap between male and female perception of sexual harassment in the workplace, said Joe Levenson, the director of campaigns at Young Women’s Trust.
“While of course there are many excellent male managers, some men may not be aware of the experiences of sexism suffered by women in the workplace – sometimes it may be brushed under the carpet or dismissed as banter,” he said. “So much sexism at work goes unreported, women fear that they will not be taken seriously or it will be bad for their career.”
The report comes after the supreme court ruling that forced the government to promise to scrap employment tribunal fees, because they were preventing workers – especially women and those on lower wages – from getting justice.
The number of women reporting sexual harassment at work halved from 2013 to 2015, while calls to the Acas helpline relating to sex discrimination increase by 14%.
“Claims dropped off a cliff,” said Shantha David, a lawyer for Unison, which brought the case against the government, saying women who were already discouraged from making complaints against colleagues and managers because of the professional ramifications then faced a fee of £250 to bring a case as an individual, plus a further £950 hearing fee. Employees also have only three months to bring a complaint after any incident.
With fewer complaints progressing to a hearing, employers had less incentive to engage productively with early conciliation via Acas, she added.
“The introduction of a fee was always an invitation for bad employers to carry on unlawfully. Now employers are more likely to engage earlier to avoid a claim being brought,” she said. “The supreme court was very clear – unless you can exercise your rights, there is little point in having them.”