‘Cultural change’ is the key to sexual harassment crackdown

Carla Gowing, an employment solicitor at Hatch Brenner in Norwich. Picture: Hatch Brenner

Carla Gowing, an employment solicitor at Hatch Brenner in Norwich. Picture: Hatch Brenner

Hatch Brenner

Another call has been made for a “cultural shift” among Britain’s businesses to stamp out sexual harassment before more legislation is foisted on employers.

Magdalene Group chief executive, Suzi Heybourne. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYMagdalene Group chief executive, Suzi Heybourne. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released this week called on the government to better protect victims of harassment at work with a number of measures, including better training for managers, stopping employers ignoring complaints to protect their reputation, and more responsible use of non-disclosure agreements.

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said the report – designed to explore how sexual harassment at work was dealt with by employers – had made some “shocking” discoveries, with the “lack of consistent, effective action being taken by employers” damaging people’s careers and mental and physical health.

But Carla Gowing, employment solicitor at Hatch Brenner in Norwich, said a “cultural shift” and proper implementation of existing rules was more important than new legislation.

She said: “As with other forms of discrimination there is a framework in place designed to protect employees so it is not always the case that further regulation is required – it is about implementing what is there and more importantly the culture.

“It is all very well having regulations but if people feel they cannot raise the issue because of the culture they are not much use, and these are the comments you get time and time again.

“In terms of implementation it is a lot to do with cultural issues – particularly from the top of businesses – as to how these issues are addressed. People have such different views on what is acceptable.”

She added that current legislation – where a breach is determined by the victim’s reaction and feelings, as well as the perpetrator’s intentions – should already take account of these differing views.

Suzi Heybourne is chief executive of the Magdalene Group in Norwich, which runs educational programmes about sexual consent and appropriate behaviour in schools and care homes. For her, education is key to ensuring people respect appropriate boundaries.

“The earlier those lessons of respect are learnt, as well as self esteem and how to express yourself, the better,” she said.

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