Sexual harassment is not a ‘woman’s issue’

When almost half of the industry believe that sexual harassment will be more of a problem when we return to the office it's time for change, writes NABS’s Lou Thompson.

Lou Thompson, NABS

Head of marketing and Communications


Many of us spent last year waiting in anticipation of the big moment we could return to our offices. But not everyone. In a recent timeTo survey 49% of the industry told us they were concerned sexual harassment would be more of problem when returning to offices, which is no surprise when we know that 41% of people have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. With such staggering numbers, it could very well be happening in your workplace.

Sexual harassment does not occur in isolation, it is not a ‘women’s issue’. We know from our research that those who identify as LGBTQ+ and those from Black, Asian and other minoritised ethnic communities, were more than twice as likely to experience sexual harassment; and women are almost four times as likely to experience it as men. Sexual harassment is very much linked to other forms of oppression, and it’s time to draw the line. Now.

Our research also told us that less than half of industry employees believe their company has a strong enough stance on tackling sexual harassment and 89% said it was an important issue for our industry to address – we cannot let it fall by the wayside – our people are begging us.

Working from home during lockdown has meant I can work freely, without fear or even the possibility of sexual harassment

Respondent to timeTo survey

People shared troubling insights around the feeling of safety that living through a pandemic brought them; “Social distancing is one of the best things to have happened. I’ve never felt more comfortable being a young female in a male-dominated environment.” “Working from home during lockdown has meant I can work freely, without fear or even the possibility of sexual harassment.​”  Imagine that – a potentially deadly virus and no social contact with loved ones being preferable to working in an office around potential predators? We must do better. Our recent campaign film shared yet more appalling stories of real experiences that people told us.

Our industry shared their expectations of what they believe will happen as people return to offices: that there will be more opportunities for harassment to occur as people are caught alone in smaller numbers; that things will go back to ‘normal’ and that inappropriate behaviour will occur as a result of pent up feelings.

But they also shared their expectations of their employers once it is safe for us to return to offices: a refresh of social conduct policies; more transparency in terms of reporting and to truly embed behaviour change.

As we begin another year of uncertainty, be certain of one thing - people are worried about sexual harrassment and want to feel safe.  Protecting people from it should be as much of a priority as protecting them from Covid.

Awareness and acceptance are the first steps to true culture change. Once businesses accept that this behaviour could be happening, then they can take steps to prevent it – just like they would with covid. Hands - face - space can apply to more than just the virus.

If you’ve been affected by sexual harassment contact the NABS Advice Line on 0800 707 6607 during working hours or for more resources visit the NABS website.

Guest Author

Lou Thompson, NABS

Head of marketing and Communications


Lou is head of marketing and communications at NABS, the charity for people working in the advertising and media industry. She has worked at NABS for over eight years and is passionate about mental health and wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion. Lou is a Mental Health Ally and a 2019 winner of the WACL Talent Award (previous WACL Future Leaders Award). Lou is a purpose-driven individual who is co-founder and ex-President of her local Women’s Institute, Steering Committee member and marketing lead for timeTo – the industry campaign to end sexual harassment – and a Bloom member and mentor.

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