'Real danger' | Damning claims of sexual misconduct levelled at senior CBI staff

Damning claims of sexual misconduct levelled at senior CBI staff

Senior employees at the Confederation of British Industry have been accused of perpetuating a toxic culture rife with sexual harassment and drug usage.

The Guardian reported on Monday (April 3 2023) that several women had come forward with allegations against senior figures within the CBI, including an allegation of rape at a staff party.

The national publication said the women, who either worked at the CBI recently or are still employed there, many several accusations including:

  • An attempted sexual assault by a manager at a staff boat party in 2019.

  • A senior manager sending explicit images to junior female staff.

  • A board member touching a female colleague’s bottom.

  • A manager propositioning female colleagues after pushing them to drink more alcohol at a company event.

  • ‘Widespread use’ of cocaine at official CBI events.

One of the whistle blowers told The Guardian: “It’s been scary. I am trying to protect my colleagues by speaking out about hidden problems. There is a real danger from some of these people.”

The women reportedly came forward after news broke last month that the CBI’s director-general was under investigation over claims of workplace harassment and misconduct.

The CBI is currently probing claims that Tony Danker acted inappropriately towards several members of staff. Danker has since ‘stepped aside’ from his role while an investigation is conducted.

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.

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Details of the allegations are, of course, confidential but The Guardian reports some of the fresh claims include Danker “viewing employees’ personal Instagram profiles”.

Commenting on the new allegations about a wider toxic culture with the firm, a CBI spokesperson said: “The CBI has treated and continues to treat all matters of workplace conduct with the utmost seriousness, which is why, earlier this month, we commissioned a thorough investigation by an independent law firm into all recent allegations that have been put to us.

“It would undermine this important process and be damaging and prejudicial to all the individuals involved to comment on these allegations at this point. We will not hesitate to take any necessary action when the investigation concludes.”

CBI allegations put spotlight on tackling workplace harassment

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.

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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.

Elizabeth Gardiner, CEO at Protect, a UK whistleblowing charity, said it was concerning that there has been a further wave of whistleblowers at CBI raising fresh allegations against the organisation through the press.

“This reiterates the message that the staff do not feel that internal processes are adequate enough to investigate or respond quickly enough to their concerns, or that they are fearful of coming forward in case of negative repercussions for their position at work,” said Gardiner.

“We strongly recommend that the CBI reviews its whistleblowing procedures so that staff can safely raise whistleblowing concerns internally.

“This should include consistent training both for individuals on how to voice concerns about wrongdoing - including sexual misconduct - and for managers on how to be good recipients of bad news or criticism.

“The CBI should have processes to address misconduct identified by whistleblowers and put in measures to help prevent it in the future.”

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