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13 September 2023

NHS report on sexual harassment in the workplace – what has been revealed?

2 mins

Women in surgical positions in the NHS say that they fear reporting incidents will damage their careers,  and that they lack confidence the NHS will take action, as reported by the BBC.

It is widely accepted there is a culture of silence around such behaviour in sectors such as Medicine and Financial Services.

Nearly two-thirds of women surgeons responding to a survey said they had been the target of sexual harassment, and a third had been sexually assaulted by colleagues in the past five years.

The report, published in the British Journal of Surgery, is the first attempt to get a sense of the scale.

Registered surgeons – men and women – were invited to take part completely anonymously and 1,434 responded, with half being women:

  • 63% of women had been the target of sexual harassment from colleagues
  • 30% of women had been sexually assaulted by a colleague
  • 11% of women reported forced physical contact related to career opportunities
  • At least 11 incidents of rape were reported
  • 90% of women, and 81% of men, had witnessed some form of sexual misconduct

While the report shows men are also subject to some of this behaviour (24% had been sexually harassed), it concludes men and women surgeons are ‘living different realities’.

Surgical training relies on learning from senior colleagues in the operating theatre and the BBC reports that women have told them it is risky to speak out about those who have power and influence over their future careers. Women surgeons have reported overt sexual harassment and sexual abuse taking place in the middle of the operating theatre at the hands of senior male colleagues, with no intervention or response from colleagues witnessing events out of fear of retribution.

Tina Din, associate in our Employment Law team, comments:

Clearly, there is much progress to be made to enable female staff to work in a safe and non-threatening environment in heavily male-dominated sectors. That’s why it’s imperative that as an employer you adopt robust policies and procedures empowering staff at all levels of seniority to report wrongdoing without fear of repercussion or victimisation, with the risk of career suicide being profound. Proactive reaction to complaints or concerns raised by staff is vital to gaining trust and confidence as an employer, addressing these wrongdoings swiftly and proportionately.

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