Sexual Harassment at Work: Unreported and Unacknowledged?

Half of women and a fifth of men have experienced it. For one in ten women, it’s caused them to leave their job or place of study. But despite this, sexual harassment in the workplace is still largely unreported and remains a ‘taboo’ subject that many people avoid talking about.

Current news headlines in the UK have been dominated by cases of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.

With the recent Oxfam scandal hitting the headlines hot on the heels of numerous allegations sweeping through Westminster, it is clear that sexual harassment is not just a problem confined to the glamour of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Sadly, these emerging stories are just the tip of the iceberg as research shows four in five women did not report incidents for fear of harming working relationships or not being taken seriously.

For a sector with the welfare of people at its core, the public sector has a long way to go when it comes to protecting its own employees and providing a safe working environment for all staff.

But what can public sector employers do to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace? This blog sets out the main areas that must be addressed in order to change attitudes and stamp out sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in your organisation.

Defining the ‘Grey Areas’

So what is sexual harassment? Citizen’s Advice defines it as ‘unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which,’

  • Violates your dignity
  • Makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • Creates a hostile or offensive environment.

Although these official guidelines and definitions do exist, many people are still unaware of what constitutes sexual harassment.

It is these ‘grey areas’ that are perhaps the largest barrier to tackling the issue – after all, until we are all on the same page with what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, this subjectivity will continue to prevent victims coming forward.

Raising Awareness: The Need for Conversation

Without a doubt, the first step towards stamping out sexual harassment in the workplace is acknowledging the scale of the problem and raising awareness.

Social media campaigns such as the #MeToo campaign have been hugely effective in helping victims to speak out and tell their story.

Fostering a culture of openness in organisations and making victims aware they will be believed and taken seriously when they come forward is crucial if we are to make any progress.

A Call for Mandatory Training

In response to the recent spate of sexual misconduct and harassment claims plaguing Westminster, a cross-party committee has recommended mandatory training on appropriate behaviour in the workplace for all MPs, peers and their staff.

Disappointingly, this proposal has received mixed reactions, with many MPs objecting to the idea on the basis that they are ‘already aware’ of how to behave towards staff and colleagues. Although there is clearly some way to go in getting everyone on board, this is certainly a step in the right direction and should be encouraged.

In order to address the issues and solutions regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, Understanding ModernGov are pleased to be holding a one-day training course, ‘Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Public Sector’, running in Central London on Thursday 24th May.

Chaired by Diversity and Inclusion specialist Julie Dennis, this course will provide practical advice and support on your legal obligations, establishing clear procedures and developing a whole-organisation approach to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace.

Get involved in the conversation!

What issues has your organisation faced regarding sexual harassment and misconduct? What advice can you give other employers to encourage a safe working environment for all employees?

We’d love to hear from you. You can tweet us using #UMGTraining @UModernGov.

If you would like to discuss any of the details you have read in this blog; including our ‘Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Public Sector’ course on Thursday 24th May, please contact us on 0800 542 9440 or email

Can’t make the date?

We can also run this course for you In-house, at your organisation or a venue of your choice, on a date to suit you.

Contact our In-house training team on or call 0800 542 9414 to find out more.