Sexual harassment in the legal profession

According to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, complaints of sexual misconduct at law firms have risen from 25 in 2014-15, to a whopping 63 in 2018-19 – that’s a rise of 152%!

Sophie Vanhegan, a partner at GQ|Littler commented on the increase in figures, saying: “Sexual harassment is not necessarily more prevalent than it traditionally has been at law firms. What’s changed is that misconduct is more likely to be reported…The increases coincide with the growth of the #MeToo movement, and likely reflect broader cultural changes arising from that.”

She added “Although there has been progress among UK law firms, such as restrictions on alcohol consumption at work events, these figures show that there is still progress to be made…Sexual misconduct often goes unreported due to junior colleagues being afraid of the consequences of doing so. Having whistleblowing hotlines and procedures in place can help deal with this.”

“The SRA is not afraid to take action against employers and any sanctions imposed can be very damaging reputationally. It is therefore very important that law firms have adequate controls in place to not only reduce incidences of misconduct but also to effectively handle a case.”

Incidences of sexual misconduct is not just limited to law firms. In May 2019, the International Bar Association’s report ‘Us Too?’ found that 38% of female lawyers in the UK had been sexually harassed, and the UK suffered higher levels of bullying and harassment compared to other countries. The report also found that a massive 74% of cases going unreported. This alarming figure may be related to the response being insufficient 71% of the time.

A shocking Legal Week survey revealed that out of 110 female respondents, 54% said they had experienced inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, while 39% of male respondents said the same.

While sexual harassment can take place irrespective of gender, it is evident that females are most affected. Therefore, it is imperative that sexual harassment is tackled effectively along with other diversity initiatives in order to make females more welcome and respected in the workplace.