Conversation with Emma Ritch, Engender

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Christina Neuwirth, 11.12.17

CN: Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today! I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about Engender before we begin?

ER: Sure! Thank you for having me. Engender is Scotland’s feminist and advocacy organisation. Its membership is made up of a combination of organisations and individual. Engender works with other organisations on women’s social, economic, cultural and political equality.

CN: Great, thank you. So, in our email conversation you mentioned that you wanted to talk about primary prevention of sexual harassment. Can you talk a little bit more about that? I think my mind always jumps straight to health care when I hear the words ‘primary prevention,’ so I would be interested in learning more about how it works in this context.

ER: Of course! All primary prevention in terms of violence against women is based on the fact that women’s inequality is what leads to violence against women. In a workplace context that means that we should have mechanisms for reporting, investigation, sanctions when people breach the rules about sexual harassment, but we also need to prevent it in the first place. We can do this by getting rid of stereotypes and creating cultures that enable people to be themselves; creating an environment that is free from micro-aggressions dressed up as “banter”. We need to address the pay gap and the ways in which success is measured. The idea is: how can we make an atmosphere that is hostile to sexual harassment? We need to create an environment that respects women and does not reduce them.

CN: Thank you. If I was an employer, what would be some good practices for me to put in place? For example, I’m thinking that, if there were more women working in management positions, women employees might find it easier to report sexual harassment…?

ER: Yes – but primary prevention would address this before it even becomes an issue, to prevent it happening in the first place. Of course, if you’re an employer, you should have good policies to respond to sexual harassment when it occurs, but you should also be building the capacity of your workforcue to treat women as equal, to remove as many as the barriers to women as you can whether those are inside or outside of the workplace. Look at your whole workplace culture: where do you have your away days? Do you play golf or go to lap dancing bars where women may be made to feel unwelcome? How do you as an employer measure success? Do you solely incentivise risk taking, or do you also incentivize teams, collaboration and mentoring? The hidden, domestic labour that women do at work like making sure that everyone gets a birthday cake, pastoral care in academia – just build in thinking about the full picture of what people need to do at work when you’re thinking about who does well. When it comes to promotions, are you considering people who work part-time or flexible hours? Are you enabling women to work part-time if this suits them? You should encourage them and build their capacity to apply for jobs – as we know, women are less likely to apply when they feel that they don’t meet the full application criteria. Respect the talents and skills of everyone in the organisation and don’t undervalue or stigmatise work – for example, administrative work is often seen as not difficult and not requiring skill, which of course is wholly untrue.

CN: Thank you! Do you have any resources you feel I could link to at the end of this interview for our blog readers, so they can find out more?

ER: Think Business, Think Equality resources are very easy to use and include self-assessment and a tailored action plan. Close the Gap have done a whole set of modules for employers. Their resources can help employers to be better employers of women, specifically.

Christina Neuwirth is co-ordinator of the new gender and sexuality studies hub GENDER.ED. She is also a PhD researcher in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, where she is looking into gender equality in contemporary Scottish writing and publishing.