Gillian MacLellan: David Brent is still among us

David Brent is back on our screens, but his behaviour never left the workplace. Picture: Contributed
David Brent is back on our screens, but his behaviour never left the workplace. Picture: Contributed
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The UK’s most notorious office manager David Brent is back on our screens, re-emerging to the delight of his many fans after a 13-year absence.

It is, however, no laughing matter that sexual harassment in the workplace, one of the many issues the hapless Brent failed to get to grips with in The Office, still remains a concern for many women in today’s working environment.

Earlier this month, the TUC’s survey of 1,500 working women in the UK found that a third had been subjected to unwelcome jokes, while a quarter received sex-related comments about their body or clothes. One in four reported unwelcome touching in the workplace and one in eight said a colleague had tried to kiss them.

Amongst younger females, the reports of incidents is much higher, with almost two-thirds of 18- to 24-year-olds reportedly being subjected to some form of sexual harassment.

While, in most cases, the perpetrator was male, with nearly one in five women reporting their line manager or someone with authority over them carrying out this activity, most females on the receiving end had not reported this as harassment. This report acts as a reminder to employers that sexist behaviour is still a blight on many places of work. The problem now is that women do not want to report it for fear of being seen as unable to deal with what is often regarded as “office banter”.

The Everyday Sexism Project, which part-sponsored the TUC survey, has said this is a key part of the problem. Anyone challenging workplace harassment in a modern society that perceives itself to have achieved gender equality risks being cast as an uptight, militant feminist.

While most companies will have a policy on harassment and behaving with dignity at work, now might be the time to consider whether they need a refresh.

While progress is being made in other areas of equality, this survey indicates that more needs to be done to tackle other sexism-related problems, which especially impact on younger workers and those who are on casual contracts who often feel more susceptible to the power imbalance in their working relationship.

In many ways the working environment has improved since the turn of the millennium when David Brent first appeared on our TV screens, reminding us of the foibles of 21st century office life. However, there is still work to be done in eradicating sexual harassment.

• Gillian MacLellan is a partner at law firm CMS

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