Bullying and sexual harassment: can mediation help?

Harassment and bullying remain significant workplace issues despite increasing awareness of the problem. Research has shown that over half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, rising to two-thirds of women age 18-24 years old.

Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, legislation has been a firm part of equalities law in the UK for several decades, but these findings show that regulation alone - although very important in setting standards and providing a route for individuals to bring a claim for harassment - is not enough to stamp out discriminatory attitudes and behaviour towards women in the workplace. 

Most employers have a positive approach to gender equality, but clearly there are still many organisations that are not fostering inclusive workplaces. If the working culture does not support gender equality and women, or men, are afraid to speak up and challenge inappropriate behaviour, this could have serious implications for the business. Any form of discrimination or harassment is totally unacceptable from a moral and legal standpoint. Also, many employers are likely to be losing valuable female talent by default if they do not treat complaints of harassment seriously and the culture is one where issues are pushed under the carpet. 

How should employers deal with complaints of bullying and/or sexual harassment? Employers should establish a robust framework to counter any potential harassment or bullying, but what role can mediation play in the process? Some might say, ‘none’ in the case of sexual harassment due to the sensitivity of the complaint – but it’s important to remember that inappropriate conduct, including sexual harassment, can take place across a wide spectrum of behaviour. For some people who have experienced harassment, the option of resolving an issue informally could be preferable to pursuing a formal route. Mediation should always be a voluntary option for both parties, of course.

How does your organisation handle complaints of bullying or harassment? Do you think informal approaches like mediation are suitable in alleged cases of sexual harassment? Come and discuss these issues and join the debate at the Civil Mediation Council event Bullying and sexual harassment: can mediation help?

Join us for an in-depth and interactive look at the resolution of confrontational and high profile allegations and hear about alternative options for addressing them swiftly and discreetly in the way least damaging to both the business and the people concerned.

When? Thursday 28 June 2018 at 14.45 in central London.

Confirmed speakers include:

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at the CIPD

Gareth Jones, HR Director, M & G Investments

Jane Farrell, CEO Equality Works

Sam Smethers, CEO, The Fawcett Society

David Whincup, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs LLP

Hannah Coulson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Callastone

Henicka Uddin, Area Director, London, Acas

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Hi Rachel. This is a great area for debate and I'm sure the CMC event will produce some interesting - and conflicting - thoughts.

    The key for me is the point you make that sexual harassment covers a wide spectrum of behaviour. In addition, one person's view of what is inappropriate may differ from another person's view. An informal approach like mediation can be very helpful in situations where the behaviour is relatively low level (the difficulty comes in deciding what 'low level' means) and where the two need to have an ongoing professional relationship. In mediation you have the opportunity for the people involved to talk about the behaviour and its impact, listen to the other's perspective and clarify misunderstandings.

    I mediated a case where a young lady was receiving inappropriate and unwanted attention from an older male colleague. The mediation enabled her to explain the impact on her which was painful and embarassing for him and he apologised. They were able to agree how they would work together in the future.

    Perhaps this could have been done through online mediation as Andrew suggests in his comment, but for me the direct human contact of face to face discussion is a powerful force that can only partially be replicated through an online setting.

  • If you are currently subject to the early stages of sexual harassment, cyber sexual harassment or workplace bullying and are hesitant in deciding what you should do about it. Maybe you are ...

    a) doing nothing, in denial or ignoring it and hoping that it will pass?

    b) for various well known reasons, you're reluctant to make a formal complaint?

    c) currently sharing your unpleasant experience with co-workers, friends or partner?

    #escalation If your'e  following any of the above, the unwanted behaviour that you're experiencing will only escalate and lead to a whole host of well known problems for you.

    #safety If you had the opportunity, at the early stages of unwanted behaviour, to have access to online mediation, where you would be in the safety and security of your own home or office environment.

    #powerimbalance Where you would not have to suffer the daunting prospect of meeting the perpetrator face-to-face in the same room.

    Which would you prefer?

    #unaware Quite often the perpetrator may not even be aware that their behaviour is causing you distress.  

    #wellness Online mediation utilised in the early stages of unwanted behaviour can often resolve the problem and lead to a happier, healthier and more productive you.