Half of women surveyed experienced sexual harassment in workplace but majority goes unreported

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For 10 years, Steph Leese, a lone woman on a building site put up with sexual harassment.

“I used to get comments about my breasts, about the size of my bum and things like that,” she said. “It just really wasn’t nice.”

In the end, the harassment drove her out of construction work and she said that reporting it was never an option.

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“I thought it would be laughed at,” she said. “I thought it would give them even more ammunition to say that I shouldn’t belong on a building site if I couldn’t take the ‘banter’.”

According to the union TUC, more than half of women have been sexually harassed at work but the vast majority didn’t report it to their employer.

Of those surveyed, 28% said that they thought reporting it would impact on their work relationships.

Employment barrister Harini Iyengar said that is starting to change.

“Individuals are starting to look back at those experiences at work and wondering whether it is something they should be complaining about informally or formally internally or outside by going to court,” she said.

Audrey White was one of the first women to stand up and fight against workplace harassment in the 1980s.

She was the manager of a clothes store in Liverpool in 1983 when her area manager sexually harassed four women in her team. Audrey complained and was sacked. Working with her union, she organised pickets at the company’s stores and eventually won her case. Despite her victory, 35 years on Audrey says nothing has changed for women in low paid jobs.

“If you’re on a zero hour contract or casual contract,” she said. “You’re not going to say ‘look, I’m not having this’.

“Because you know that contract won’t be renewed.”

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But some women have never seen bad behaviour.

The team at A1 Flues factory in Nottingham say that mutual trust is the key.

Boss TJ Duncan-Moir said a woman in the top job helps.

“They can come to me if there is a problem,” she said.

More women working has brought increased awareness and changed attitudes and in some places enabled more women to speak out.

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