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‘I have experienced such behaviours in local government’ - Weinstein allegations prompt top council boss to speak out against sexual harassment

PUBLISHED: 07:40 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 11:16 19 October 2017

Dr Wendy Thomson, managing director of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Dr Wendy Thomson, managing director of Norfolk County Council. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

The top officer at Norfolk County Council has urged a stand against sexual harassment, with the hope allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein change the way people think about such behaviour.

Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

County Hall managing director Dr Wendy Thomson revealed she had experienced such behaviour in local government in the past - and it had no place in today’s workplace.

Other business bosses echoed her hope publicity over Weinstein and social media campaign #MeToo, where victims of assault and harassment used the hashtag to demonstrate the scale of the problem, would finally end such behaviour.

Dr Thomson, in a newsletter to staff, wrote: “I want everyone to be very clear about the council’s commitment to providing a safe workplace.

“This week, accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are grabbing the headlines, as women from around the world speak up.

“I am sorry to say that I have experienced such behaviours in local government in the past

“There is absolutely no space for such behaviour in the local government of today.

“Any councillor or member of staff who feels subjected to unwanted sexual advances should either tackle it head on, if they feel they can, report it to their line manager or make use of the council’s whistleblowing policy. Be sure you will have my support.”

She stressed she had not experienced anything of that kind in Norfolk, but had elsewhere.

She said: “There is now a clear line and there is no, ifs and buts about it - it’s not excusable. That’s a position that I hold very dearly - that any form of exploitation from a position of power is absolutely unacceptable to me.”

Tricia Fuller, group HR director at Norse, believes a “long-overdue” shift in attitudes is imminent following the shockwaves from the Hollywood revelations.

She said: “It may have an effect on organisations who do not see it because it is part of their culture, but it will be a lightning bolt for individuals who do this and want to change their own behaviour.

“If someone as high profile as him [Weinstein] can be brought down, it may cause individuals to think about what they say.”

While working in the retail sector in her late 20s, Ms Fuller said she had experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour.

She said: “It was a time when men said things to you that they would not dream of saying now. It is important to make sure women have the language to say, please don’t speak to me like that, particularly for junior women – sometimes that it all it takes.”

Inappropriate behaviour was ‘kind of accepted’ in the 1980s, according to the director of a Norwich accountancy firm - but she said she believed it was no longer seen “on a day-to-day basis.

Michelle Raper, a director at Rostrons in Norwich, said she had experienced such behaviour in the past.

She said: “In the early years of my career in the late 1980s, it was not unusual for a boss to be sexually suggestive to a young female employee, and it was kind of accepted.

“I am not saying it was right, but at the time it was just something that happened.

“I am very glad that on a day-to-day basis we do not see that any more. As an all-female-owned business I would like to think we do not have any issues [at Rostrons], but this behaviour is not just male to female. Men can be sexually harassed by women and it is important that we acknowledge that and protect them equally.”

Allegations of sexual harassment have been made by several high-profile actresses, either against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein or other men.

Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Lea Seydoux and Ashley Judd are among those to allege Weinstein harassed them, while others, including Jennifer Lawrence and Reese Witherspoon, have spoken about encounters involving other, unidentified men.

The 65-year-old producer “unequivocally denied” all allegations of non-consensual sex, through a representative.

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