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The damage and dangers of sexual harassment in the workplace.

From advertising and fashion to the music industry, every sector is now seemingly having its own #MeToo moment. In recent months we’ve seen accounts of sexual abuse and harassment at McDonald’s, the Red Arrows and in national sporting bodies. These organisations are not alone, and more are coming – a significant proportion (18%) of the calls we received last year related to bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment. 

One of the latest exposed for sexist and discriminatory behaviours is the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service where matters have advanced so far that the Welsh Government has been forced to step in and take over. In early February it was announced in the Senedd that due to a lack of confidence in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and its oversight Authority’s ability to resolve the Service’s cultural issues, both bodies are to be taken over. All functions will be exercised by newly appointed Commissioners who will remain in post until the Service “is clearly an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all”.  

This dramatic action from the Welsh Government follows the release of a damning independent review into the Service which found it has an entrenched sexist and discriminatory culture with serious management failures to deter, detect and address the Service’s culture. The investigation was originally commissioned after two whistleblowers spoke with ITV News regarding sexual harassment within the Service. 

Following the release of the investigation report, the Service’s oversight Authority had published proposals on implementing the more than 80 recommendations, but Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, said these did “not provide any assurance that the underlying problems can or will be addressed” as she had “little confidence that the review’s recommendations will be fully and sustainably implemented, and that the wider failings in management will be rectified, or that the risks to service delivery and firefighter safety will be averted”. 

The investigation’s report detailed that the Service did not have effective whistleblowing arrangements in place. There were “both perceived and actual barriers” preventing employees speaking up about misconduct, a lack of encouragement and support for people to speak up (and insufficient action if they did) along with a “real fear within the Service to speak up”.  

This stands as a stark reminder that culture really matters and organisations need to have a helicopter view rather than only focusing on personal conduct matters on a case-by-case basis. Failing to do so risks missing wider issues that have a pervasive impact on staff relations.  Organisations need to have inclusive and accessible ways to identify and address the root causes of misconduct to ensure staff issues don’t escalate to impact on services. 

Organisations who want to improve their whistleblowing arrangements should contact our Business Support team. 

If you need advice on raising concerns at your workplace about a culture of bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment please contact Protect’s free confidential Advice Line for advice and see our webpage here

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