Let’s end sexual harassment in the hospitality workplace

Last week’s President’s Club Charity Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel will be the club’s last.

An undercover investigative report by the Financial Times revealed grisly stories of sexual harassment of hostesses by the more Neanderthal element of the male-only guest list at the gala auction event, which has raised funds for a range of charities for the past thirty three years.

As a result of the report, the club has been closed and its dinner discontinued.

Accounts emerged of hostesses being “groped, harassed and sexually propositioned” and subjected to “lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester”.

No account was given of whether front of house staff at the hotel were also subjected to sexual harassment; but it’s easy to imagine how intimidating and degrading the locker-room atmosphere must have been for them.

The FT’s exposé came on the back of recent high-profile cases of sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond, which have galvanised men and women across the world to disclose their own hidden, unspoken and buried memories of experiences of sexual harassment.

The prevalence of sexual harassment in our culture today is shocking. A recent ComRes survey for the BBC revealed that 40% of women and 18% of men have experienced harassment in the workplace.

The survey highlighted that flexible workers are more likely to have experienced unwanted behaviour, meaning that the problem is likely to be more acute in the hospitality industry. The presence of alcohol, and the perception among some guests that hotels, restaurants and bars are places where they can pocket their moral compass and release their inner chauvinist, only exacerbate the problem.

The 2010 Equalities Act defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.”

There are no circumstances where sexual harassment of any nature is acceptable. And no one should expect to be subject to any such conduct at their place of work.

If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, a good first step is to share your experiences with someone you can trust and speak to in confidence. This does not have to be someone in your organisation if the harassment has occurred at work. Speaking about sexual harassment helps explore what your options are for action. Doing this in secret or isolation is much harder and support can be very useful during this time.

As with so many other issues that affect hospitality professionals, Hospitality Action can help. It’s important to us that all employees feel safe, comfortable and uncompromised in their place of work. That’s why we offer a sexual harassment factsheet and a confidential helpline, which can help you deal with your experiences.

If your employer is a member of our EAP scheme, you can contact us to discuss your situation in confidence on 0808 802 2111 (24/7) or mail mailto:assistance@hospitalityaction.org.uk.

Alternatively, non-EAP subscribers can contact our Assistance Line in confidence on 0808 802 0282 (24/7).

Don’t tolerate sexual harassment in your place of work. And don’t suffer alone.