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Abuse & Discrimination In The Workplace

There has been a great deal of media attention around victims of abuse and discrimination in the workplace.

For this blog, I have drawn comparisons on the victims of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse and the gender discrimination case of Bina Hale. The common theme is that women have been complicit or have turned a blind eye to this treatment of other women within a workplace.

There are many industries renowned for inequality in the workplace; This is the case in the entertainment industry; the majority of executive roles are held by men (writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers). In fact, research found that in 2017, just 18% of directors working on the top 250 grossing films were women (celluloid ceiling report).

Legal industries are also historically known for being male-dominated (in 2018 79% of the top 50 largest law firms in the UK have male partners – source

It could be argued that both industries are more likely to be discriminatory and abusive towards women, however, this may not always be the case; it may be a woman that is being discriminative/abusive toward a male for example.

Spanning over three decades there has been more than 50 allegations of sexual harassment and assault cases brought against American film Director, Harvey Weinstein. It has been alleged that there were 16 employees of Weinstein who had knowledge of or had witnessed the sexual assault on women and a number of these witnesses were women themselves. Weinstein’s female lawyer and 3 board members of the Weinstein company knew of at least three cases in which a financial settlement had been reached to silence the victims.

When actress Uma Thurman made allegations against Weinstein, his female spokeswoman refuted the allegations. Some employees threatened to expose Weinstein and his behaviour only to be told by lawyers that they had ‘no chance’ of proving it did take place.

Bina Hale was an employee at Dentons Solicitors, Milton Keynes and was made redundant whilst on maternity leave, she was informed of her redundancy on her first day back to work. The case was subsequently taken to an employment tribunal.

At the tribunal, it was claimed that the reason Mrs Hale was made redundant was because she was away on maternity leave and therefore it would cause “less disruption” within the company.

It also brought into question the credibility of evidence given by two female HR professionals, suggesting it was lacking in honesty and integrity. The decision on redundancy was made by Mrs Hales’ female line manager (Emma Rowe) and the firm’s HR representative (Suzanne Barnes). It was also claimed that the senior partner at the Milton Keynes office of Denton’s Andrew Harris attempted to conceal positive comments he made during Ms Hales employment with the firm.

In a written conclusion, Martin Warren, the tribunal judge, said: “We therefore find that whilst there was a genuine redundancy situation, the principal reason that Mrs Hale was selected and therefore dismissed was that she had been absent from work on maternity leave . . . it was convenient to dismiss her”. The actions of Andrew Harris gave “the impression of someone scratching around desperately for justification” for the dismissal of Ms Hale.

In the UK, unfair dismissal can be claimed on the grounds of discrimination within two years of employment, however, the law also allows for people to be ‘silenced’ by settlement agreements in return for a financial settlement.

These ‘deals’ are usually brokered between lawyers and the complainant at a time when they are suffering extreme stress and overcoming appalling treatment; which is illegal and usually carries a custodial sentence if being dealt with under the provisions of criminal law.

I have witnessed such behaviour first hand in the workplace and have to say it becomes very stressful as you feel powerless against the perpetrators. If you do speak up and voice your concerns they may turn your colleagues against you, create a smear campaign against you, prevent promotions and/or pay reviews and make you feel like you are being dramatic or ‘over sensitive’. In my experience it was women in more senior positions who in my opinion felt like they needed to mirror this abusive behaviour to keep in with the ‘establishment’ in order to succeed and climb their own career ladder(s).

I have grave concerns about settlement agreements in discrimination and sexual assault cases and feel these are similar to financial payments offered to people to ‘drop the charges’ i.e. bribery payments in criminal cases.

I also question whether the female ‘enablers’ in these cases have also been subjected to abuse and coercion by these powerful, rich men who have their careers in their hands? Do these ‘enablers’ genuinely see this treatment as acceptable and that the culture of silence that exists amongst male-dominated institutions is not just about them keeping their own jobs, but they are lead to believe by the perpetrators that they (the perpetrators) could just do whatever they wanted because of their money, power and status.

We have come a long way to ensure gender equality, however, we need more Bina Hale’s and Rose Mc Gowan’s to speak out, to not accept financial settlements to keep quiet and to bring abusers to justice.

This inequality and unfairness has now been publicly highlighted and can no longer be tolerated.

We need a world in which the law and the culture within businesses protect women; with an increase in the number of positive female role models in senior positions in the workplace.

Young women should be educated that they can follow careers that men would usually take and feel empowered to unify; not pit against each other to further their own careers.

I’m now in a position where I can influence culture, be a positive female role model and ensure fairness and equality.

It’s definitely time for change.

Lyndsey Price – Pilkington Shaw, Operations and Organisational Development Director

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