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CIPD gives evidence on sexual harassment in the workplace

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has given evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee as part of a one-off session on sexual harassment in the workplace.


Ksenia Zheltoukhova, CIPD’s head of research, gave evidence at the session which investigated employer responses to reports of sexual harassment, the adequacy of the law, and the advice available to employers and HR professionals.


Research from TUC found that nearly two in three young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment at work - 79 percent of all women who have experienced workplace sexual harassment did not tell their employer.


CIPD said the reluctance to report sexual harassment at work can be explained by a number of factors:

  • A lack of awareness of a formal process;
  • An employer’s poor track record in dealing with other sexual harassment cases;
  • A weak organisational culture;
  • Poor line management.

Zheltoukhova told the committee that management must make special provisions for sexual harassment cases, and have clear policies which are regularly communicated and reinforced.


When asked what employers can do to increase reporting, she pointed to the underlying issue of positive and inclusive organisational cultures and suggested two actions that employers can take.


First, she suggested that employers should create environments where there is a diversity of representation at senior management level. Then she emphasised the supportive role of line managers and said the two must work in tandem to build an open and trusting organisational culture.


As for the support that is available to employers externally, CIPD said there are concerns about consistency in guidance. When questioned about what should be done to improve consistency, Zheltoukhova had three suggestions:

  • Guidance should use consistent language and definitions of the terms used in relation to sexual harassment;
  • It should be made clear that judgement of behaviour should primarily sit with the victim rather than a witness or observer;
  • Guidance should provide practical advice and tools for employers to look at the culture and power dynamics in their organisation more broadly, as tackling sexual harassment on a case-by-case basis does not go far enough in tackling this broader issue.

Ahead of the committee session, held in January, its chair Maria Miller MP met with CIPD’s head of public policy, Ben Willmott, to ask for its views on Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).


CIPD said Miller’s interest stems from her focus on pregnancy and maternity discrimination and recent sexual harassment scandals.


The institute said her questions were principally on the ethics behind NDAs, and whether they are simply being used as ‘gagging’ orders to cover up wrongdoing. Willmott explained CIPD’s view that they should only be used as a last resort and can, on occasion, be used to save victims from the potentially intimidating experience of having to go through a process.


However, CIPD said that there are times when they shouldn’t be used, for example, in order to cover up the behaviour of a senior manager who might be a repeat offender, which ties into a wider question about an organisation’s culture.


The committee has now opened a full inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace to which the CIPD will be responding.


In the meantime, CIPD has put together a hub of resources, content, and networks, to support the profession in changing workplace cultures for the better and tackle sexual harassment and bullying at work. The hub can be found here.

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