Male sexual harassment incidents ‘worryingly high’

Still lagging well behind female harassment cases, but are ‘ladettes’ still at large?

Four in ten men say they have suffered harassment of some form in the workplace at the hands of women, it’s been revealed.

While those figures fall some way behind those of women who have been harassed in the workplace, there’s a worrying upward trend that goes against current ideals of gender equality, a leading workplace health and safety consultancy says.

The Protecting.co.uk employment law company says that instances of inappropriate behaviour have been under-reported for years, simply because both men and women are too embarrassed or feel too threatened to takes their problems to management.

“Harassment of male workers is a difficult subject to approach,” says Protecting.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, “but it’s a legitimate problem that seems to be out of control in some companies.”

A confidential survey of 1104 male employees from a cross-section of offices, factories, the public sector and retail found:

• 40% of men said they’d suffered harassment of some sort at the hands of female colleagues or management

Of these:
• 78% said they had not reported the harassment
• 82% said the harassment was verbal in the mail
• 18% said the harassment was verbal and/or physical

“We can’t deny that male-on-female abuse is still the major issue in the workplace,” says Hall, “but it’s clear that there is inappropriate female-to-male behaviour that’s happening on an increasing scale.”

Protecting.co.uk said that the majority of verbal harassment is dismissed as “workplace banter”, but some male employees say that their lives have been made a misery as a result.

“‘Banter’ seems to be a catch-all excuse for any kind of misogynistic or misandrous abuse these days,” says Protecting’s Mark Hall, “but it’s unacceptable whoever it’s aimed at.”

Some men interviewed by Protecting.co.uk spoke of sexual suggestions, pinched backsides, and a ‘ladette’ culture that was quite open in the workplace. One person remarked that the staff canteen “resembled a drunken hen party most days”.

One employee ‘Dave’ told Protecting.co.uk that he left a job where he supervised a predominantly female team on a production line because of a tide of sexual remarks: “It was from first thing Monday to last thing Friday, a never-ending culture of sexual banter” he said, “And my boss just wasn’t interested when I complained – he said I ought to be flattered!”

Another office worker thought his complaints wouldn’t be taken seriously after being touched sexually by a female manager. “It’s not the kind of thing a bloke can take to HR without looking like some sort of unmanly wimp,” said ‘Graham’, “I was embarrassed by it, and was glad when she was promoted to a different part of the company.”

Protecting.co.uk urges employees – whatever their gender – to report any sexist, racist or homophobic abuse to senior staff, union reps or HR employees.

“Left unchecked, abuse and harassment become a toxic culture in any company, and the effects are devastating,” Hall says.

“Unfortunately, too many women, and increasing numbers of men suffer in silence. It’s time to turn back the tide.”