Six in ten working women have had a male colleague behave ‘inappropriately’ towards them, new research has revealed.
The study showed that women were still subjected to sexist attitudes at work with the old clichés of men slipping a hand up their skirt or patting them on the bum still a regular occurrence for some women.
While nearly a quarter of women have experienced a senior colleague making a pass at them at some point in their career.
When it came to inappropriate comments and touching more than half of the offenders were more senior members of staff and two thirds of women said the inappropriate behaviour came from a married man.
But despite saying that the behaviour of their colleagues was often degrading and embarrassing only 27 per cent reported the behaviour to someone senior.
The research polled 1,036 women and was commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon.
Slater and Gordon Employment Lawyer Claire Dawson said, “We deal with some really shocking cases of sexual harassment in the workplace but it’s always surprising to hear how widespread the issue is and how many women don’t feel like they can report behaviour like this.
“We are well in to the 21st century now and the message doesn’t seem to have got through to everyone that this just isn’t acceptable. Women have a right to go to work without having to fend off unwanted advances or inappropriate behaviour from members of the opposite sex.
“Unfortunately this research confirms what we often see, which is that the woman who is being harassed ends up being unfairly disadvantaged because of it.”
More than a third said a senior male colleague had made inappropriate comments about their breasts, sex life, bum or the clothes they were wearing. One in six women had been forced to fend off a colleague who tried to kiss them and twelve per cent had a colleague place his hand on her behind.
Women also reported incidents where colleagues put their hands up their skirt, touched their legs or thighs and put their hands in the small of their back. Of the sixty per cent that said they have experienced inappropriate behaviour from colleagues, 21 per cent classed the behaviour as persistent.
The most common places for women to experience inappropriate behaviour were at their desk while they were working late, at an office party or in a staff corridor or lift.
Two thirds said they think that senior people think they can behave however they want with younger colleagues and one in five have wanted to leave a job after an incident.
The research showed that after an incident of inappropriate behaviour women often found themselves ignored by the member of staff or even bad-mouthed or embarrassed. Of the 24 per cent of women that had a superior make a move on them five per cent then lost their job and more than one in ten said they had been turned down for a promotion.
Nearly half of the women polled had been warned to expect inappropriate behaviour from a certain colleague while the same amount said they thought sexist behaviour would always exist in the workplace.
Only 14 per cent of women are confident that in a few generations sexual discrimination will be a thing of the past while nearly a fifth of women felt that they may have had a more successful career if they had been more receptive to colleague’s flirtatious behaviour.
Claire Dawson said: “We see clients who have been blamed for bringing the treatment on themselves because of what they wear or how they are perceived by others, and clients who have been bullied, denied promotion or even physically assaulted when they refuse a colleague’s advances or make it clear that the harassment is not welcome.
“It’s frustrating to hear these stories as a lawyer and it’s important for women to be aware of what their rights are. They shouldn’t feel like this behaviour is acceptable and that it is something that comes with the job.”
Claire Dawson is a Principal Lawyer in Slater and Gordon's Manchester Employment Law Department.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have 1,450 staff and offices in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Merseyside, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Cambridge and meeting rooms in Bramhall, Cheshire.