Us Too?

Today, the International Bar Association (IBA) released its report Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal profession.

The report, commissioned in the wake of the #MeToo movement, has identified worrying statistics indicating that bullying and sexual harassment is endemic in the legal profession.  The report, prepared after a survey of almost 7,000 lawyers across 135 countries, has identified that levels of bullying and sexual harassment in the UK legal profession are above the International average.

With over 700 British lawyers participating in the survey, 75% from law firms and the remaining 25% from a mixture of chambers, the Judiciary and in house counsel, the IBA’s report found that 38% of female and 6% of male respondents had been the target of sexually harassing conduct.  Instances of bullying were higher with 62% of female respondents and 41% of male respondents confirming they had been the subject of such conduct at work.

“Ridicule or demeaning language” is identified as the most common form of bullying, with supervision related bullying – overbearing supervision and constant unproductive criticism – also common place.  The most common identified form of sexual harassment was sexist, sexual or sexually suggestive comments while inappropriate physical contact and sexual propositions were also common; 22% of sexually harassed respondents had been fondled, kissed or groped.

Despite the prevalence of bullying and sexual harassment in legal workplaces, the report found a worrying low instance of reporting.  Of those instances identified 57% of bullying cases and 75% of sexual harassment cases were not reported to their organisation.  The report identifies the main reason for the lack of reporting as the status of the perpetrator and the individual’s fear of repercussions and negative impact on their career.

The report identified that younger legal professionals were disproportionately impacted by bullying and sexual harassment, with line managers/supervisors having the highest propensity to engage in bullying conduct and individuals in a position senior to the victim identified as the most frequent perpetrators of sexual harassment.

A statistic that should be of particular concern to the legal industry, is the finding that the lack of confidence in their workplace reporting procedures and the resolution process which causes 65% of bullying victims and 37% of sexual harassment victims to leave or consider leaving their workplace and in many instances consider leaving the profession all together.  This possibly reflects the concerning finding that of those who reported bullying 82% found their workplace’s response insufficient and in 84% of reported cases the perpetrator was not sanctioned, in cases involving sexual harassment 66% found their workplace response inadequate and in 75% of the reported cases the perpetrator was not sanctioned.

The IBA makes a series of recommendation to the legal profession which it is proposed will facilitate dialogue. These include raising awareness that the legal profession has a problem with bulling and sexual harassment, encouraging the development and implementation of effective policies, exploring more flexible reporting models and implementing regular and customised training.

The release of today’s report heralds the start of the IBA’s global engagement campaign to raise awareness and facilitate dialogue about bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession with events planned in over 20 countries, across six continents.  The purpose of the campaign is to encourage the legal profession to start actively addressing the issue, to focus on educating all echelons of the profession and to encourage everyone in the profession to “call out” bullying and sexual harassment when they see or hear about it.

The legal profession is unlikely to be vastly different from other professions and the recommendations made in this report are likely to be as valid to organisations outside of the legal sector.

The full report is available on the IBA’s website, a link to which can be found here https://www.ibanet.org/bullying-and-sexual-harassment.aspx.


murray-smith_s-35_web Written by Sarah Murray-Smith, partner at BLM

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