The revelations of the last days about sexual harassment and serious sexual abuse have been, one would hope, a wake-up call for all industry sectors. Now the onus is surely on trying to stop it happening. Let’s hope that the fact that Parliament is now debating it will bring forth practical measures for tackling it and not see the discussion diverted down the deadend path of party politics. It’s not about party politics. It’s about abuse of power.
To tackle that requires proper, safe channels for reporting abuse, support for those who have been abused and more equal power structures at work so one person’s word doesn’t count for so much more than another’s. It requires more diversity at work so people can’t get away with the type of comments [‘banter’] that denigrate certain people and enable abuse. Yes, there are specific safety measures that can be put in place now, but creating a more diverse culture takes sustained effort. It is not just about tweaking things at the edges. In education, where my background is, it requires rethinking everything from the curriculum to the language and images used in adverts to the role models seen in publications and around campus. It is about making the case for why this matters to everyone and, where abuse is concerned, it is about creating spaces where people can come together and discuss how we – all of us – make our workplaces safer.
It would be good to believe that, given time, the next generation will be better at equality, but that would be overly optimistic. While there are some positive signs about shared parental leave and so forth, the general culture that my children at least have grown up in is one that is very clearly delineated between blue and pink, where images of abuse are easily available on any child’s phone and where young girls are growing up with escalating levels of mental distress. I remember my daughter’s friend telling me at 14 that every boy in her class was looking at porn and that “that is what they expect of girls”.
All of this coexists with a strong belief in collective female action, of female empowerment. It’s a confused, confusing world and girls – and boys – are pulled in all directions. Parents have a huge role to play in not only creating safe places at home where they can build their self esteem, but in doing their bit to foster the kind of culture at work which will allow them to flourish when they grow up.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.