Third of women lawyers report sexual harassment at work

An international report on the legal profession shows high levels of bullying and sexual harassment.

Employment Law


A third of women lawyers across the world have been sexually harassed at work with the figure for the UK standing at 38%, according to a new study.

The report from the International Bar Association, launched in London this week, is based on a survey of nearly 7,000 surveyed legal professionals from 135 countries. It includes people working in law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary.

The figures show one in two women and one in three men have experienced bullying in the workplace and one in three women have been sexually harassed, compared to one in 14 men. It says that  in 57 per cent of bullying cases, incidents were not reported, with the figure rising to 75 per cent for episodes of sexual harassment.

Some 65 per cent of bullied practitioners having left or considered leaving their workplace as a result.

The report says workplaces are not doing enough to prevent or adequately respond to misconduct, with policies regarding bullying and sexual harassment present in only 53 per cent of workplaces. Just one in five workplaces have conducted training in recognising and reporting problems in these areas.

Looking at the UK specifically, it finds levels of bullying are above average, with 62% of female respondents and 41% of male respondents reporting that they had been bullied in connection with their employment (compared with the international averages of 55% and 30% respectively). The frequency of sexual harassment is closer to the global average, with 38% of female respondents and 6% of male respondents reporting sexual harassment at work.

Those who report bullying have overwhelmingly negative experience: 82% said their workplace’s response was insufficient or negligible. In 84% of cases, the perpetrator was not sanctioned. With regard to sexual harassment, 74% of cases are not reported and, in the cases that are reported, the response was insufficient or negligible 71% of the time.

Some 79% of respondents said their workplaces had anti-bullying and sexual harassment policies in place (compared to 53% globally). However, confidence in those responsible for the policies is below the international average (60% compared with 65% globally). However, British legal professionals at workplaces with policies in place experience considerably less bullying. The report also states that there is a link between workplaces running training and less bullying and sexual harassment occurring in those workplaces. It says:  “While training does not appear to increase absolute reporting rates, and perceptions of efficacy are poor (8% said the training was excellent while 33% rated the programme as insufficient or negligible), those who have been trained are more likely to use internal workplace channels to report incidents.”

The recommendations set out by the IBA to aid the legal profession in addressing workplace bullying and sexual harassment focus on raising greater awareness of these issues; implementing and revising policies and standards; the importance of improved training; increased dialogue and greater accountability across the profession; increasing intra-profession dialogue and best practice sharing; developing flexible reporting models; and maintaining momentum to achieve genuine change.

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