Survey reveals scale of sexual harassment in creative workplaces

23 January 2019

More than half of women and a quarter of men working in creative industries have encountered sexual harassment at work, according to a survey by entertainment union BECTU.

Hundreds of BECTU members in broadcasting, theatre, the arts, film and telecommunications shared a raft of concerns about sexual harassment – from lewd comments to unwanted advances in the workplace.

The survey also uncovered how a culture of fear – with workers terrified their future prospects will be damaged if they complain – leaves people too scared to speak out. Freelance workers are particularly vulnerable, fearing they will be labelled as troublemakers and cut adrift.

The detailed findings are published this week (January 23) as BECTU launches its flagship ‘Dignity at Work’ campaign. The campaign aims to champion workers’ rights to dignity – from harassment and bullying to working hours and privacy – and highlight the role and responsibility of unions in improving workplace culture.

 BECTU’s survey revealed:
  • More than half (51%) of women and a quarter (28%) of men have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or unwanted behaviour on grounds of sex
  • Workers are exposed to sexual harassment, sexual remarks and sexist behaviour more than any other kind of inappropriate behaviour
  • More than half (58%) of respondents have experienced or witnessed “jokes” of a sexual nature
  • Half (50%) have experienced or witnessed comments of a sexual nature
  • More than one third (35%) have experienced or witnessed unwanted comments about body or appearance
  • A quarter (25%) have experienced or witnessed unwanted and/or inappropriate touching, hugging or kissing at wor18% have experienced or witnessed the circulation of pornography in the workplace

Far from being isolated incidents, the survey revealed that around half of all respondents had experienced or witnessed harassment on more than once occasion.

And it showed that fear of repercussion and a lack of trust in managers are major barriers to speaking out, with 43% saying they wouldn’t trust managers to deal with an issue and 42% saying they would be concerned about the impact on their

career. Workers also harbour fears of damaging their working relationships; being blamed by colleagues, and not being taken seriously.

Comments submitted through the survey include:

“I have witnessed and experienced institutionalised misogyny and sexism in the film industry.”

“Lewd comments and sexualised comments and ‘joking’ around are an everyday occurrence for a young assistant on a film set.”

“If I were confident that victim blaming wasn’t a real problem, I would report it. But that’s not the case in reality.”

BECTU National Secretary Sarah Ward said: “The Me Too and Time’s Up movements turned the spotlight on the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace, and our survey reveals the shocking depth of the problem in the UK’s creative industries.

“Whether it’s being on the receiving end of so-called banter or a target for physical assault, this kind of behaviour is simply unacceptable. That’s why we are calling on employers to work with us to stamp out sexual harassment for good.”

BECTU’s Dignity at Work campaign will expand on the union’s work with the BFI and BAFTA – which led to new principles for dealing with bullying and harassment – and seek to roll out best practice across different creative sectors.

Head of BECTU Philippa Childs said: “We’re clear that sexual harassment in the workplace is a trade union issue – it’s up to all of us to take a stand and stop this damaging behaviour being accepted as the norm.

“Many of our members are freelance workers, who fear they have to put up or shut up if they want to continue to receive work. Our Dignity at Work campaign is about challenging and working with employers to do more to protect workers’ rights, and it’s about ensuring that we hear and act on our members’ concerns so that together we can make creative workplaces safe spaces for everyone.”

The survey, carried out in 2018, saw more than 700 BECTU members share their experiences. A full report can be seen in the campaign documents section. 

Watch the BECTU Dignity at Work short film on sexual harassment here: v7O0OjYgEX8