The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) director general has stepped down from his position amid allegations of workplace harassment levelled against him.
The CBI confirmed it has launched an investigation into claims that Tony Danker acted inappropriately towards several members of staff.
The organisation had only recently concluded a separate probe into Danker's behaviour, after complaints were lodged in January. This reportedly involved “unwanted contact” with a female employee which she felt amounted to sexual harassment, but the organisation deemed it unnecessary to escalate the complaints to a disciplinary process.
But following further complaints raised in early March, the CBI has "now taken steps to initiate an independent investigation into these new matters.”
Details of the allegations are, of course, confidential but The Guardian reports some of the fresh claims include Danker “viewing employees’ personal Instagram profiles”.
CBI president Brian McBride said: “On 2 March, the CBI was made aware of new reports regarding Tony Danker’s workplace conduct. We have now taken steps to initiate an independent investigation into these new matters. Tony Danker asked to step aside from his role as director general of the CBI while the independent investigation into these matters takes place.
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“The CBI takes all matters of workplace conduct extremely seriously but it is important to stress that until this investigation is complete, any new allegations remain unproven and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
McBride also sent an internal message to all CBI staff following the revelations, which signposted to the firm’s harassment policies and grievance & disciplinary processes.
“I want to be clear: all allegations regarding workplace conduct are taken extremely seriously,” he wrote.
“We can assure you, anything you raise will be taken seriously and be dealt with in the strictest confidence.
“We recognise that no workplace, including ours is immune from these types of challenges.”
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In a statement, Danker said: "It's been mortifying to hear that I have caused offence or anxiety to any colleague. It was completely unintentional, and I apologise profusely.
"I therefore support the decision we've taken to review any new allegations independently. And I have decided to step aside while the review takes place and will cooperate fully with it."
According to The Guardian, the January complaint was submitted by a female CBI employee, and the more recent allegations were raised by other members of staff.
'Wise move' for Danker to step down, employment expert says
Martin Williams, head of employment and partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter said that it was for the best that Danker step aside while the investigation was carried out, chiefly so that the probe isn't compromised by the accused being in the workplace, but also so that the alleged victim can feel more comfortable about the matter.
"As the CBI is, seemingly, looking at more serious allegations than those raised in January, it is a wise move to suspend Mr Danker while a full investigation proceeds," said Williams.
"Suspension should be regarded as a neutral act. It is a step to be taken when there may be a concern, no matter how minimal, that the investigation could be compromised by the accused remaining in post.
"It may also be appropriate to suspend so the alleged victim can feel comfortable in the workplace.
"When allegations are made about senior post-holders there is always the pressure of publicity and being seen to be doing the right thing.
"Having an organisation’s figurehead continuing with very public duties is not a good look when it is widely known they are under investigation."
CBI allegations put spotlight on tackling workplace harassment
At this stage, the allegations against Danker are, as the CBI states, unproven. However, regardless of whether the claims are validated or dropped, the high-profile nature of the situation has already drawn attention to the issue of workplace harassment.
Recent research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime. And while the glass-half-fullers among us will find it reassuring that almost 80% of employees haven’t been subjected to this behaviour, even one in five victims is one too many.
This is especially true when you look further into the research, which found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.
The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.
The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes. While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men). The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.
Employers must be proactive
Speaking previously to HR Grapevine, Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, pointed out that ultimately it is the responsibility of all employers to take proactive measures to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Sadly, sexual harassment is still a very present issue in many workplaces. In fact, recent research has found that almost three-quarters (72%) of female workers have seen or been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues in the workplace,” Palmer explained.
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“A Worker Protection Bill is currently progressing through parliament which could see a duty placed on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment. While this is something employers should keep an eye on, it’s important to note that under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be held legally responsible if an employee is sexually harassed at work by a colleague if it is found they didn’t take all reasonable steps to prevent this from happening.
“As such, all businesses should pro-actively review their policies on sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace and assess how aware employees are of them.”
Palmer said that, while a robust policy is the first step in preventing misconduct, organisations should also ensure they have a clear, zero-tolerance attitude towards this behaviour. Similarly, workplace training for managers and workers on how to manage, avoid and report inappropriate actions can go a long way in discouraging all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, as can providing effective support for affected employees.
Palmer went on: “Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission teamed up with UK Hospitality to publish a new action plan and checklist for employers, to help them stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This was created following research which found that most hospitality workers have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, and most found it to be a “normal” part of the job in settings where alcohol is consumed.
“Employers in customer-facing sectors should also keep in mind that harassment may come from third parties so take extra steps to minimise the impact this could have on employees. Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations; those who don’t may risk tribunal claims, high turnover, and reduced productivity.”