Sexual harassment in the workplace is a definite ‘No Grey Area’. All employers have a duty of care to protect their workers and will be legally liable for sexual harassment in the workplace if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent it.

Sexual harassment occurs when an individual engages in unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. It has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating someone’s dignity
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual concerned 

New survey data published today International Women’s Day 2021 by Welsh Women’s Aid shows that four out of five women in Wales have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.  

The vast majority of women who responded to the survey experienced harassment on more than one occasion and from more than one person in their workplace.  

‘Everyone deserves the right to work in an environment free from harassment.

Over 200 women from across Wales responded to the survey. Welsh Women’s Aid Chief Exec Sara Kirkpatrick has called the findings, “shocking but sadly not unexpected.” 

Sara told us….

“Sexual harassment is endemic in workplaces across Wales. Experiences of sexual harassment for black and minority ethnic women, LGBTQ+ women and women with a disability are also heightened by other forms of discrimination. Our society can no longer ignore the fact that, for the majority of women in Wales, the workplace is not always a safe space. 

“Women who have experienced sexual harassment at work often talk about the frustration of the ‘grey area’ they feel they are trapped in; that speaking up about unwanted behaviour would either negatively escalate the situation or have severe impacts on their jobs and livelihoods.  

“Everyone deserves the right to work in an environment free from harassment. We need to shine a spotlight on insidious ‘grey area culture’ that allows sexual harassment to continue and put an end to workplace sexual harassment once and for all.”  

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, Welsh Women’s Aid is launching its #NoGreyArea campaign which calls out toxic workplace environments where sexual harassment can flourish.

The survey by Welsh Women’s Aid also found that: 

  • Over 98% of respondents said that the person who harassed them was male.  
  • Over 60% of perpetrators of workplace sexual harassment were those in a managerial or more senior role.  
  • The most common type of harassment are comments made of a sexual nature (82%). However, 60% of women said they had experienced unwanted physical touch and over 50% of women were told that conversations that made them feel uncomfortable at work were ‘jokes’ or ‘banter’.  
  • In the first nine months of the pandemic, over 15% of Welsh women had either experienced workplace sexual harassment themselves or knew a friend who had experienced harassment during this time. 
  • Welsh women infrequently reported sexual harassment in the workplace (19% said they reported it). Of those that did report it, 64% were unsatisfied with the outcome. 
  • The majority (60%) of Welsh women think that employers could do more to prevent sexual harassment from happening at work.  

All of a sudden, he grabbed me and aggressively squeezed and shook my buttock. I was in total shock.’  

You can watch the campaign video here in both English and Welsh. 

Supporting the campaign is comedian and writer, Kiri Pritchard-McLean. She told us…..

“Having seen first-hand the impact of sexual harassment on women and non-binary people in the comedy circuit, I felt it was really important to back Welsh Women’s Aid’s #NoGreyArea campaign. Whether you work in an office or a bar, whether you are a politician or a stand-up comedian, sexual harassment impacts us all.  

“I hope that by exposing the ‘grey area’ dynamic and highlighting how pervasive an issue this is in Wales, more women will feel empowered to speak-up against unwanted behaviour and more men will realise why sexual harassment at work is completely unacceptable.” 

Kiri Pritchard-McLean is backing the No Grey Area campaign

Lucy* has experienced years of sexual harassment working in a male-dominated industry. She said:

“As soon as people found out I had a girlfriend, the sexual harassment I received was just horrendous. The obscene sexual things they would say to me were just disgusting. They would say it in the office in front of a room full of people and it was so embarrassing and belittling. I was being boiled down to nothing more than my sexuality. It was awful. 

“Every single time I’d ask them to stop, I’d hear ‘it was just a joke’. When you hear that so often, you do start to question yourself and wonder if there’s something wrong with how you’re reacting to these things. 

“There was one co-worker that would say things to me about my body and ask questions about my relationships. He would over-sexualise me to the point that I would wear an oversized company work fleece to the office just for an easier life. I shouldn’t have had to do that.  

“There is such a ‘boys’ club’ culture in so many industries and they get away with so much. They feel like they can’t speak up against the behaviour. They know their workmates will make fun of them. It feels like a cycle you can’t break.” 

Johanna* experienced racialised sexual harassment from her manager. She said:

“It started pretty much from the first day I worked there. He was very aggressive towards me, in a way that he wasn’t with the members of staff who were white. 

“He always found ways to isolate me to be with him on my own. He would stand close to me to intimidate me and he’d ask me really inappropriate questions and he’d talk graphically about his sex life. He liked seeing how uncomfortable this made me. Because I was new and he was my manager, I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t afford to leave my job.  

“One day, the moment I walked in for my shift, he was visibly upset with me and I had no idea why. All of a sudden, he grabbed me and aggressively squeezed and shook my buttock. I was in total shock.  

After 18 months, I left the job. I couldn’t take it any longer. I wanted to progress in that company and I wanted to one day be a manager. I was cheated out of a career there because of the behaviour of my manager.” 

If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work, you can make a complaint to your employer. Your employer should:

  • take your complaint very seriously
  • handle it fairly and sensitively

You can also look at your workplace’s policy on discrimination and harassment, if there is one. This should say how your employer handles discrimination and harassment complaints.

The policy may also tell you who to send your complaint to, for example someone at your workplace with specialist training. You should also tell your local trade union representative, if you have one.

It’s a good idea to make notes before you talk to someone, especially if talking about the experience is particularly distressing.

Your employer must allow you to be accompanied by someone you work with or a trade union representative at a grievance hearing. They might let you bring a friend or family member.

If you make a complaint a long time after an incident took place, your employer should still take it seriously.

Anyone in Wales who is experiencing sexual harassment, domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women or is concerned about someone else can contact the 24-hour LIVE FEAR FREE Helpline 0808 80 10 800. Webchat HERE text: 078600 77 333, or email: info@livefearfreehelpline.wales for confidential help and support.  

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