'Dismissed, normalised, swept under the carpet'

Unite delegate Lesley Mansell highlights experiences of LBT+ women in sexual harassment debate

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Unite delegate Lesley Mansell spoke passionately in support of a motion on tackling and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace on Wednesday (October 19).

She highlighted how lesbians are not protected from sexual harassment because their “experiences are still largely invisible and therefore ignored”.

Lesley pointed to a 2017 TUC report which shed light on the lives of lesbian, bi-sexual and Trans+ women “whose experiences of workplace sexual harassment were all too often dismissed, normalised and swept under the carpet”.

“The report shows this harassment is largely linked to the sexualisation of our identities and the misconception that these identities solely focus on sexual activity,” she explained.

Lesley noted some of the key findings of the report, which found that LBT+ women in the survey experienced higher levels of sexual harassment and sexual assault in many areas; and that around 68 per cent of LBT+ workers experience sexual harassment.

“They report unwanted touching, sexual assault and rape – at work,” she said.

The report also found that LBT+ workers are more than twice as likely to report unwanted touching, and almost twice as likely to report experiencing sexual assault.  They are also more likely to leave their job as a result, while one in four don’t report for fear of being ‘outed’ at work.

“Not just in Health, where I work, but industry after industry, shows experiences that have too long been marginalised and ignored,” Lesley explained. “People influenced by these stereotypes see being LGBT+ as an invitation to make sexualised comments or ask inappropriate questions about our sex lives, particularly if we are ‘out’.”

Lesley did highlight positive findings from the report, which showed that unionised workplaces make a real difference in preventing and tackling sexual harassment at work.

She went on to outline what the government must do, including introducing a new legal duty to prevent sexual harassment and ensure LGBT+ workers are effectively protected; strengthening legislation to tackle third-party harassment; and reinstating power of employment tribunals’ to make wider recommendations.

Lesley called on employers to take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination and harassment, make all work policies inclusive and ensure that all policies adopt a zero-tolerance approach.

She went on to highlight that trade unions have a vital role to play too, by negotiating better policies and supporting members to resolve ongoing issues, as well as running workplace campaigns.

“Support this motion and take some action where you work,” Lesley concluded.

The motion was carried.

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