“STILL JUST A BIT OF BANTER?” – HOW FAR HAVE WE REALLY COME SINCE THE DAYS OF DON DRAPER?

 MAD MEN, the critically-acclaimed period television drama, portrays life in a fictitious advertising agency in the 1960s.

The historically-authentic series contains many features of the Swinging Sixties which make viewers nostalgic for the clothes, cars and culture which spring to mind when one imagines life in that decade.

But Mad Men was true not just to the high points of the 1960s, but also the less salubrious aspects of life half a century ago.

The ubiquity of heavy smoking and alcoholism contrasts starkly with the present emphasis on clean and healthy living.

And the rampant sexism and racism make very uncomfortable viewing for a modern audience.

Despite the extremely unpleasant political-incorrectness of many of the characters, viewers have become hooked on the series, safe in the knowledge that, even if the fictional world of Man Men is an accurate representation of society at the time, that was long ago and “we” have come a long way since then.

At least, that is what we like to think. But have we really?

Some of the most painful scenes in the series involve the audaciously chauvinistic manner in which the male characters treat their female colleagues (with impunity).

We tell ourselves that, awful as these scenes are, at least they would not occur in today’s liberal, progressive society.

But a recent survey carried out by YouGov and published by the Trades Union Congress (“TUC”) suggests otherwise.

The report on the survey – titled “Still just a bit of banter?” – found that more than half of working women have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, including almost two-thirds of women aged 18-24.

Of the women surveyed, 12% have experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempts to kiss them, a fifth have experienced unwanted verbal sexual advances, more than a quarter have been the subject of sexual comments about their body or clothes and nearly one in three have been the subject of unwelcome sexual jokes whilst at work.

These troubling figures suggest that sexual harassment, far from being consigned to an ignorant and intolerant past, is a very real presence in the life of many women today.

And the fact that 80% of women harassed at work did not tell their employer about what was happening suggests that either they are resigned to sexual harassment as a fact of life, they think reporting it would be ineffective, they fear repercussions or have some other reason to keep their ill-treatment to themselves.

Whatever the reason, the survey suggests that far too many women are still being subjected to the degrading sexual harassment which made us cringe whilst watching Mad Men – and the perpetrators are still getting away with it.

The TUC has set out a number of recommendations in its report in an effort to combat sexual harassment at work, including abolishing employment tribunal fees, reinstating the statutory equality questionnaire, ensuring HR and all levels of management in a company receive training on sexual harassment in the workplace and that trade unions should negotiate workplace policies covering sexual harassment, which should be widely publicised amongst members.

Whether any of these proposals will be implemented remains to be seen.

If and when some or all of these measures are put into place, there is also no guarantee that they will curb the current levels of sexual harassment, rather than simply creating yet more regulatory and compliance headaches for non-offending businesses.

But, at the very least, this new survey should serve as a wake-up call for those of us who have become complacent and think that the struggle for equal rights and respect for all workers has already been won.

It hasn’t.


If you have been subjected to sexual harassment or any other form of discrimination, or to discuss any other employment law matter, email employment specialist solicitor by emailing guildford@rhw.co.uk or call 01483 302 000.