A fifth of workers in Scottish Parliament have experienced sexism or sexual harassment

Written by Jenni Davidson on 1 March 2018 in News

The confidential survey was sent to Scottish Parliament staff, MSPs and others based in the Scottish Parliament

A fifth of those working in the Scottish Parliament have experienced sexism or sexual harassment, a survey has found.

A confidential questionnaire was sent to MSPs, MSPs’ staff, Scottish Parliament staff and others working in the parliament, such as journalists, at the end of 2017.

The results of the survey made for “difficult reading”, the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, said.

While the majority – 78 per cent – of respondents said they had not experienced sexism or sexual harassment, 20 per cent said they had, and two per cent weren’t sure.

When broken down by gender, 30 per cent of women and six per cent of men reported experiencing inappropriate behaviour in some form.

Perpetrators were reported to be predominantly male and in a position of authority over those experiencing the behaviour.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Ken Macintosh said: “For an institution which prides itself on openness, inclusivity and on having progressive working practices, a number of the findings make for difficult reading. 

“I am sorry that people have experienced this type of behaviour while working here.

“I am determined to address this.

“The party leaders and SPCB [Scottish Parliament Corporate Body] members have seen the results and all accept the report findings in full. 

“All have reiterated their strong commitment to tackling these issues and to ensuring a zero tolerance approach is not simply a policy statement but is a daily reality for those who work here. 

“With that in mind, the joint working group which was set up earlier this year has been considering the findings and has already started to identity the key strands of work it will take forward to address the issues raised by the report.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "shocked, saddened and disappointed" by the survey results and she welcomed the apology from the presiding officer to those who had experienced harassment or sexism while working in the parliament.

She said: "It is clear that women and men - but mainly women - have put up with behaviour that is unacceptable.

“No one should be subject to harassment or sexist behaviour of any kind in their work or personal life and our national parliament should set a positive example as a place of work with the highest standards of behaviour. 

“I have discussed the results of this survey with the Presiding Officer and the need for the Parliament’s working group to set out a clear course of action. 

She addedd: “Most importantly, women or men experiencing harassment or sexism must never be made to feel that it is their fault. 

“The most significant change that can be made in response to these results is a change in behaviour by the perpetrators. 

“People across the parliament from MSPs to staff to members of the media should be considering how they use the power they hold and whether their behaviour lives up to the high standards that we should all expect."

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, a member of the parliament’s corporate body, added that while the results were “concerning”, they were “by no means surprising”. 

“We have known for many years that sexual harassment and sexist behaviour is present throughout our society.  This survey confirms that Holyrood is not immune to the problem,” she said.

Dugdale said that while it was “incredibly important” to support those who have experienced such behaviour and ensure perpetrators are held accountable, the “overarching aim” must be to create a culture which prevents sexual harassment and sexist behaviour from happening in the first place.

Over 1,000 responses to the survey were received, which was conducted by independent market research company Progressive on behalf of the Scottish Parliament.

The research found that awareness of reporting procedures was high, but the low percentage of people reporting incidents could suggest a lack of confidence in the processes.

A lack of confidence in the reporting systems came through more strongly in the responses of those who had experienced this behaviour, the Scottish Parliament said.

In contrast to the high numbers reporting problems in the survey, actual complaints have been very low.

There were only been nine calls to the parliament’s confidential phoneline from when it was set up in November to mid-January and reports of inappropriate behaviour to parliamentary authorities over the last five years were in single figures, according to previous statements by the parliament.

A joint working group of representatives from parliamentary staff, MSPs, MSPs’ staff and the third sector has been set up to agree action to be taken in light of the survey, such as training for managers and improved reporting procedures.

SNP MSP Rona Mackay, a member of the joint working group, said: “The joint working group has already started to debate how we address the issues raised and has identified the key strands of work it wants to take forward. 

“There is a strong commitment right across the group to tackle the problem and achieve real and lasting change.”




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