Two thirds of 18-24 year old women will be sexually harassed at work. These are your stories
‘I didn’t get a job because I asked why I had to wear a thong’
A survey conducted by the TUC has just revealed that almost two-thirds of 18 to 24-year-old women have been subjected to sexual harassment at work.
This included receiving unwelcome jokes and sex-related comments about their body or clothes, and even extended to being inappropriately touched.
Four out of five women who experienced sexual harassment at work said that they didn’t tell their employer because they were scared it would affect their relationships at work, damage their career prospects, or were too embarrassed.
TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, highlighted the fact that often, sexual harassment in the workplace is dismissed as “just a bit of ‘banter’”, and in April, the Tab spoke to a young woman who eventually left her job because of the extent of the comments and jokes made by her colleagues.
In the article, she highlighted how she ignored the issue for a while because she wanted to fit in with the group, and urged other young women not to ignore the problem.
But what does sexual harassment in the workplace actually look like? We asked you for some of your stories, and here they are:
“I got told to ‘stop dressing like I was going to a nightclub’ because I was wearing a flimsy top and lipstick. It was hard because I worked between two shops, and one liked me to dress up and one didn’t.”
“I worked in a really upmarket café in a posh area of London when I was 16 just to make some money. The big boss was about 65/70 and owned businesses in LA as well as London. So he was a top dog and had loads of money and was very superficial/concerned with looks. This café he had bought for his daughter as her business, and it was his pride and joy compared to the salons. He employed me in my first job ever, and it was going well – I learned a lot about work ethic and how to treat customers etc.
“One day, about a month into the job, he brought me aside and said: “I’ve got a little request which I hope you will oblige me with, could you wear a little more make-up please?” I was wearing a bit of mascara, but I don’t wear much make-up anyway and didn’t think it mattered because I looked presentable otherwise and my job was just serving coffee in a busy café. I questioned him a bit, and he turned it into a compliment, saying “it’s only because you’re such a beautiful girl that I want you to enhance your looks, could you maybe wear some eyeliner and lipstick next time? I count you as my little star waitress who represents us at the front of the café and I want you to draw customers in.”
“He basically told me that I was his little, young, sexy eye candy for the café, which felt so weird and insulting because I felt like he didn’t value anything else in me apart from how I looked. It was horrible. 16-year-old me went home feeling a bit odd and told my parents – they immediately told me to quit as he was a misogynistic creep who had the gall to demand a 16-year-old waitress to wear lipstick and eyeliner on a Saturday daytime to “draw customers into his café.”
“One job I didn’t get because I asked why I was told I had to wear a thong for the job and they just never contacted me again. It was a hostessing job and they never told me why. I just asked “why do I need to wear a thong; can’t I wear something with no VPL instead?”. Even after three follow up emails they never responded.
“There was another hostess job where I asked if I could wear trousers like the men because I was being cat-called in the dress they made me wear and it was making me uncomfortable. They said if I didn’t like it I could go home and wouldn’t get paid at all.”
“I worked as a waitress for a golf club. Both women and men could be members, but only men were allowed in the dining room. Obviously most of the waiting staff were young girls. The men would refuse to move when we had to walk between them, and I had one shift where they got really drunk and it was obvious they wanted the girls to have to squeeze between them. I left after that shift.”
“I got sent home from work early for not having make-up. I got in trouble for not having my roots done all the time as well. I was in second year and I just didn’t wear make-up that much so I thought I could skip it for a shift. My supervisor was absolutely fine with it – I got the general “oh you look tired” thing because he hadn’t seen me without it before, but it wasn’t an issue at all. But then my manager came in and literally stopped in his conversation because he was so shocked that I was bare faced. The boy I was working with hadn’t even ironed his shirt and they didn’t say anything, but I got the whole “you’re supposed to be representing yourself and us, and you haven’t put in any effort” speech.
“The restaurant was quiet so he told my supervisor that if anyone was leaving early it should be me because I didn’t look like I should be at work. Make-up wasn’t in my contract – I didn’t even have one because we were cash in hand. I worked there for about a year, and I did enjoy it when the manager wasn’t there and my supervisor always had my back, but it did upset me.”
“I work in a relatively smart-casual corporate environment, and while womenswear tends to offer more creativity than men’s in this area, it can also be frustrating and somewhat hypocritical. I’ve been complimented on very figure-hugging dresses that show off every curve that were well-cut and didn’t show too much cleavage. And yet wearing a strappy top that was, in my opinion, quite smart because it was well-cut, didn’t show off any cleavage and wasn’t even clingy, I was chastised by my manager.
“Apparently I attracted a few “comments” from the other women because my bra straps were slightly visible over my shoulders. This really annoyed me, because while I appreciate that I need to dress appropriately, it wouldn’t have been any different visually had I been wearing another top underneath. Also, I don’t think whether or not my bra strap is showing has any bearing on my ability to do my job.”
The short of it is that such incidents are unfortunately common, and while they shouldn’t be tolerated, a lot of people put up with it for the sake of relationships with people they work with, their career prospects, or just because ignoring it is an easier option.
Speaking about the issue, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, Lauren Bates, said: “Many people would like to think that workplace sexual harassment is a thing of the past. In reality, it is alive and well, and having a huge impact on tens of thousands of women’s lives.
“These findings reveal the shameful extent of the problem and the reality of the touching, unwanted advances and inappropriate comments women find themselves confronted with while simply trying to do their jobs.
“Employers need to take urgent action to tackle the problem.”