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Enough anti-PC jokes: women who are black, LGBT or have a disability are bullied more.

Brendan Martin, 2 April 2014

You might have seen the shocking news that in the biggest ever British survey of its kind, published today, more than half of the women said they had experienced workplace bullying or harassment over the last three years.

But if those headline numbers were not bad enough, some less widely reported details from the survey of 25,000 women aged 28-40 by the Opportunity Now campaign are even more troubling.

Turn to page 23 of the report and you will read:

“The figures are still more disturbing when disaggregated for women’s diversity. Among the 52% of women who have experienced workplace bullying and harassment during the previous three years, the rates were highest for Black British / African / Caribbean women (69%), women with disabilities (71%), bisexual (61%) and lesbian and gay women (55%).

“These bullying and harassment figures exclude sexual harassment, which we asked about separately. Among female respondents, 12% said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during the previous three years.

“Again, LGBT women, ethnic minority women and women with disabilities were more frequently targets of sexual harassment.”

The report adds: “When we asked participants an open ended, unprompted question about what their organisation could do or could have done to improve the culture in their workplace, addressing bullying and harassment was the most frequent suggestion: one in six women recommended it.”

The second most frequent suggestion was to “address the stigma associated with flexible/agile working”, an issue that still affects women more than men since our society has made only glacial progress towards equalising responsibility for weekday parenting.

The report makes four recommendations, the first one of which addresses equality of opportunity. “If you are serious about change,” it reads, “you as CEOs and senior leaders need to take the lead on women’s progression, moving this from a diversity initiative to a core business priority. Set aspirational targets for the numbers of women you want to see at each level in your organisation.”

I have no argument with that, but it follows from the report’s own evidence that particular attention needs to be paid also to other aspects of diversity, and not least the presence of ethnic minority and LGBT people, and people with disabilities, in senior positions.

Last year Public World published disturbing evidence suggesting that black and minority ethnic applicants are significantly less likely to be appointed -- even having been shortlisted -- than white applicants for NHS jobs, and more likely to be disciplined.

Our report did not break the numbers down by seniority of grade, because the data to which we had access for the report did not do so, but there is plenty of other evidence showing that the higher the grade the less likely it is to be filled by a non-white person.

Clearly, if efforts to combat the scourge of workplace bullying are to be effective -- and for plenty of other good reasons -- we cannot allow ourselves the complacent belief that equal opportunities in the workplace have been won. Far from it.

But if bullying, like many other workplace challenges, has a diversity and equality aspect,  it is also associated with a range of other cultural and management issues in organisations. I will return to that in a future blog.

Meanwhile, Public World is working with a number of employers and unions to support their efforts to improve diversity and tackle bullying and other organisational culture challenges. If you would like a chat about how we might be able to help you, do please drop me a line.

  • Brendan Martin is managing director of Public World


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