Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff are facing “shockingly high” levels of sexual harassment and assault, but almost two-thirds do not tell their employer about it.
Nearly seven in 10 (68%) LGBT people have been sexually harassed at work according to a report from the TUC, which has been released to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia today (17 May).
Forty-three per cent had received comments of a sexual nature , while 47% had been the subject of jokes. More than a quarter (27%) had received unwelcome verbal sexual advances and 42% had heard colleagues commenting or asking questions about their sex life.
LGBT women were significantly more likely than LGBT men to experience sexual harassment. More than a third (35%) had experienced unwanted touching, such as placing hands on their lower back or knee, compared with 16% of LGBT men; 21% of women and 12% of men had been sexually assaulted, including touching their breasts, buttocks or genitals; and 12% of women and 7% of men had been seriously assaulted or raped at work.
A woman who took part in the TUC’s research, which involved more than 1,150 workers, said she had received comments like “I am determined to turn you straight” and had colleagues trying to kiss her and touch her breasts at a work social event.
One man said: “I was repeatedly asked in front of my peers whether I was ‘the train or the tunnel’ and whether I had ‘sucked off’ my partner on my lunch. When I raised the fact that this was embarrassing me and I felt uncomfortable I was told I was being melodramatic and overreacting.”
Despite many of the respondents suggesting that the behaviour they experienced had a big impact on their lives, two-thirds did not tell their employer about it. More than half (57%) chose not to report harassment because they thought it would have a negative effect on their relationships at work, while 44% thought it would impact their career development.
Four in 10 workers were doubtful that the person responsible for sexual harassment would be sufficiently punished.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government must change the law to ensure employers are held responsible for preventing sexual harassment.
“In 2019 LGBT people should be safe and supported at work. But instead they’re experiencing shockingly high levels of sexual harassment and assault,” she said.
“Workplace culture needs to change. No one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions – let alone serious acts of assault.”
Paul Holcroft, associate director at consultancy Croner, said introducing a new diversity and inclusion policy, which outlined what an organisation expects to do to challenge outdated stereotypes and promote equal opportunities, would help employers tackle discrimination and harassment.
“This could be done through the setting of specific targets; for example, the BBC’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, released in 2016, aims to have 8% of its workforce be from the LGBT community by 2020 through changes to its recruitment and selection processes, he said.
“By taking this action, a company can help to encourage its current workers not to feel segregated in their roles whilst also promoting itself to potential external candidates.
“A visible policy could also enable the organisation to take part in local networking or ‘pride’ events, which would help to facilitate further exposure to the community.”
However, Laura Darnley, a lawyer at HRC Law, said revising policies alone will not encourage change. “Employers have a long way to go to achieve true inclusion among the workforce and that needs to come from a top down approach – employees need to feel these issues are taken seriously at senior management level, and that they are in a safe environment to raise any concerns that do arise,” she said.
Workplace culture needs to change. No one should think that a colleague being LGBT is an invitation for sexualised comments or inappropriate questions – let alone serious acts of assault.” – Frances O’Grady, TUC
The TUC’s Sexual harassment of LGBT people in the workplace report, makes several recommendations for the government, employers and trade unions to consider, including:
- Introducing a new legal duty for employers to prevent harassment, including strengthening legislation to tackle third-party harassment. A breach of this duty should constitute an unlawful act under the Equality Act 2010
- Introducing a statutory code of practice on sexual harassment at work, which is inclusive of LGBT people
- Ensuring employers’ policies are inclusive of the LGBT community and use appropriate language. All staff should be trained on these policies
- Making sure a zero-tolerance approach is taken to all forms of discrimination and harassment
- Training HR and management on what constitutes sexual harassment, the relevant laws and how to respond to complaints of inappropriate behaviour, discrimination and assault.
Today, mobile network O2 has created a bank of resources to help employees and managers support transgender colleagues who are going through or considering gender transition. Developed with LGBT+ charity Stonewall, the resources offer advice on confidentiality and privacy and the correct use of pronouns.